Cannabis may alleviate depression, suicidality in PTSD patients

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Cannabis may help patients cope with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new study by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.  

In an analysis of health survey data collected by Statistics Canada from more than 24,000 Canadians, researchers found that people who have PTSD but do not medicate with cannabis are far more likely to suffer from severe depression and have suicidal thoughts than those who reported cannabis use over the past year.

Data was obtained from Statistics Canada's 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health (CCHS-MH), which covers Canadians aged 15 and older. Among 24,089 eligible respondents, 420 reported a current clinical diagnosis of PTSD. In total, 106 people with PTSD, 28.2 percent, reported past-year cannabis use, compared to 11.2 percent of those without PTSD.

The researchers found that PTSD was significantly associated with a recent major depressive episode and suicidal ideation among people who don't use cannabis. Specifically, cannabis non-users with PTSD were about seven times more likely to have experienced a recent major depressive episode and 4.7 times more likely to have thoughts of suicide compared to cannabis non-users without PTSD, the researchers found.

Among cannabis-using respondents, PTSD was not associated with a recent depressive episode or suicide ideation. Over one-quarter of Canadians with PTSD reported past-year cannabis use, compared to recent use in the general Canadian population, which is estimated at 11.4 percent.

People exposed to trauma, including survivors of acute injury, conflict, violence, and disaster may suffer from depression, suicide, and substance use disorders at disproportionately high rates compared to the general population. Canada is estimated to have one of the highest prevalence rates of PTSD worldwide, affecting an estimated 9.2 percent of the population.

"We're only just beginning to understand what the therapeutic potential of cannabis may be for a variety of health conditions," said M-J Milloy, PhD, senior author and research scientist in a statement. "These findings are promising, and merit further study in order to fully understand the benefits of cannabis for people living with PTSD."