UBC launching world's first medical marijuana study for mental health issues

Sep 9 2016, 5:21 pm

Could medical marijuana be the answer to treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

That’s what the University of British Columbia hopes to find out through the world’s first clinical trial that studies the effects of medical marijuana on a mental health disorder.

It will also be the largest medical marijuana study that has taken place in Canada in 40 years.

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UBC Okanagan clinical psychologist Zach Walsh thinks if anecdotal evidence is any indication, cannabis might have a positive effect on those who are afflicted with PTSD.

“There’s been documentation and self-reports from veterans saying that smoking cannabis is really helpful for their PTSD,” Walsh told Daily Hive. “Until now, it hasn’t be subject to clinical trials, which is really the gold standard.”

Walsh says there’s a sizeable number of veterans in Canada and the US who are already using medical marijuana to help with their PTSD, so now it’s just about finding out whether or not it works.

What is PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder is developed, as the name suggests, after a tragic event that threatens a person’s life, such as going to war, getting into a severe car wreck, or sexual assault.

People who have been raped or experience abuse during childhood are more likely to develop the disorder than those who have been in accidents or natural disasters, with about half of rape survivors developing PTSD. The term came into use after the Vietnam War, as many US veterans showed symptoms of the disorder.

Many people with PTSD have trouble sleeping, are irritable or have angry outbursts, have difficulty concentrating, and are easily startled. The disorder may affect up to 9% of Canadians.

In most cases, antidepressants are used to treat PTSD, but they only work about half the time.

The next steps.

Right now, Walsh and his team are seeking out 42 people who have been diagnosed with PTSD, which might include veterans, first responders, and people who have been involved in accidents or violent crimes.

Walsh suspects medical marijuana will be beneficial in helping to reduce nightmares in patients with PTSD.

“There’s some evidence of that with Nabilone, a pharmaceutical cannabis-like drug,” he said. “So I think people will be getting a better night’s sleep – some of their anxiety and startle responses might be dampened as well.”

“If people can start to sleep and be a little less irritable and a little less anxious, then maybe they can start to build on some of the other positive elements of their lives more positively,” he adds.

Besides helping patients in need of treatment, Walsh believes this study could help to end some of the stigma surrounding medical marijuana use.

“Time and time again, we see physicians and regulators saying there’s not enough evidence on the medical use of cannabis, and that’s why they’re reluctant to endorse it. This is exactly the kind of study that physicians and policy makers have been calling for.”

This is the second phase of this clinical trial, says Walsh, and more people will be involved in the third phase, adding that 42 is a typical number for this phase of a trial.

The study is being funded by Tilray, a medical marijuana producer that specializes in cultivation and research.