Article by Jessica Leeder, Globe and Mail
People who have post-traumatic stress disorder but do not medicate with cannabis are far more likely to suffer from severe depression and have suicidal thoughts than those who use marijuana, new national research says.
Based on cross-country data from Statistics Canada, the observational study by researchers at the British Columbia Centre for Substance Use shows that Canadians with PTSD who use medicinal cannabis are 60 per cent to 65 per cent less likely to have major depressive episodes or thoughts of suicide compared with those who do not treat their symptoms with medical marijuana. The study is the first national-scale indication of the effectiveness of cannabis at mitigating the hallmark symptoms of PTSD. It was presented on Thursday at the annual conference of the Canadian Public Health Association in Montreal.
The results underscore the need for increased investments in the science of medical cannabis, including randomized controlled studies designed to explore safety, effectiveness and optimal uses, said M-J Milloy, an epidemiologist and the lead author of the study.
“The findings today are not by any means the end of the story,” said Dr. Milloy, who called the prevalence of PTSD in Canada a “pretty substantial public health problem.”
“We haven’t been able to develop any good treatments for people with PTSD,” he said. “There’s talk-therapy and the use of anti-depressants. But by and large, people with PTSD are really suffering alone.”
About 10 per cent of the population has PTSD, which stems from an experience of or exposure to trauma. Symptoms include overwhelming anxiety, fits of extreme anger and aggression, sleeplessness, depression and suicidal thoughts. While it is common among military veterans and first responders, people who come to Canada from countries with civil unrest, for example, can also be diagnosed with it.
No drug is designed specifically to treat PTSD and doctors usually prescribe a cocktail of pills.