A backyard in India where cannabis plants grow freely. Inset: A happy rat.
Happy rats agree: Pot beats PTSD. (Photo Credits: CC BY/Paul Evans/Flickr; CC BY-SA/Sarah Jones/Flickr)

A new study conducted by psychology researchers at Haifa University in Israel suggests that marijuana administered in a timely manner to rats that suffer psychological trauma can effectively block the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So long as the rats were treated with marijuana within 24 hours of the traumatic experience, PTSD symptoms were avoided. The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Rats and the marijuana PTSD experiment

Researchers subjected an entire group of rats to extreme stress, to the point symptoms resembling human PTSD occurred. The rats were then divided into four groups. The first group wasn’t given any marijuana. The second group was given a marijuana injection after two hours, while the third and fourth groups were injected after 24 and 48 hours, respectively.

Upon examination one week later, the group of rats that did not receive marijuana treatment and the group that was not exposed to marijuana until 48 hours later showed signs of high anxiety and PTSD symptoms. The two-hour and 24-hour groups still showed anxiety, but no other PTSD symptoms were present.

The critical window

According to study leader Dr. Irit Akirav, the timing of marijuana application is vitally important.

“There is a critical window of time after trauma, during which synthetic marijuana can help prevent symptoms similar to PTSD in rats,” said Akirav. “It does not erase the experience, but can help prevent the development of PTSD symptoms.”

The amygdala welcome mat

Akirav noted that receptors in the amygdala area of the brain are hospitable to the marijuana treatment.

“We found that the effects of the cannabinoids were mediated by receptors in the amygdala area of the brain, known to be responsible for mediation of stress, fear and trauma,” she noted.

There is no guarantee that marijuana PTSD treatment will work the same way for humans, but Akirav expressed confidence that once the research moves forward, results will fall into line.

PTSD primer

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder results from an overwhelming assault on the mind and emotions involving a threat of death or serious injury or damage to one’s physical integrity. The cause may be a natural disaster, an accident or a human action. People who suffer from this disorder are often edgy, irritable, easily startled and constantly on guard. They often involuntarily re-experience the traumatic event in the form of memories, nightmares and flashbacks. They frequently appear to avoid feelings and thoughts reminiscent of the trauma. They sufferer from emotional numbing which often causes demoralization and isolation.

Pharmacological research on marijuana for PTSD treatment

Sources

Agence France-Presse: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/09/20/marijuana-blocks-ptsd-symptoms-in-rats-study/

Cannabis and PTSD: http://rxmarijuana.com/pstd.htm

Neuropsychopharmacology: http://www.nature.com/npp/index.html

NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126827410

University of Haifa: http://www.haifa.ac.il/index_eng.html

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