The Use of Medicinal Marijuana for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of the Current Literature

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Background: Medicinal marijuana has already been legalized in over 23 states with more considering legalization. Despite the trend toward legalization, to date, there has been no systematic review of the existing literature for the efficacy of medicinal marijuana for many of the conditions for which it is proposed to treat. This study seeks to understand the current literature regarding the use of medicinal marijuana in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Data Sources: PubMed and PsycINFO databases were searched until April 2014 for articles outlining outcomes of case files, control studies, and observational studies regarding the efficacy of medicinal marijuana in treating PTSD. Various combinations of the following search terms were used: marijuana, medicinal marijuana, cannabis, cannabinoid, PTSD, efficacy, trial, and neurobiology.

Study Selection: Full text of each article was reviewed, and those directly addressing the question of efficacy of medicinal marijuana on PTSD symptomatology were included. Data were extracted from a total of 46 articles.

Results: Analysis revealed that most reports are correlational and observational in basis with a notable lack of randomized, controlled studies. Many of the published studies suggest a decrease in PTSD symptoms with marijuana use. Though the directionality of cannabis use and PTSD could not be fully differentiated at this time, there appears to also be a correlation between PTSD and problematic cannabis use. Despite this finding, there is a growing amount of neurobiological evidence and animal studies suggesting potential neurologically based reasons for the reported efficacy.

Conclusions: Posttraumatic stress disorder is 1 of the approved conditions for medicinal marijuana in some states. While the literature to date is suggestive of a potential decrease in PTSD symptomatology with the use of medicinal marijuana, there is a notable lack of large-scale trials, making any final conclusions difficult to confirm at this time.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2015;17(3):doi:10.4088/PCC.15r01786

https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.15r01786