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CBD Potential Treatment for PTSD and Specific Phobias, Study Finds

A new study adds to the body of research indicating that a compound found in hemp and marijuana can be beneficial for treating PTSD and anxiety disorders.

Findings in a new study published by Frontiers in Pharmacology suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) is effective for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and specific phobias. The study, headed up by Chenchen Song of the University of Birmingham, found that CBD provides both acute and long-lasting effects to reduce fear memory.

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the seeds, stalk and flowers of cannabis plants, including hemp and marijuana. CBD has yet to be FDA approved for any condition, but many studies indicate that the compound holds promising therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions.

In the animal study, 10mg injections of CBD was found effective at reducing freezing behavior in rats that had been previously exposed to strong fear conditioning. The freeze response is a reaction to fear that is common among prey animals. The rats given CBD were significantly less likely to be fearful when put under the same conditions at a later date. The administering of CBD, Song and her research team explain, was effective at hindering the development of fear.

“In the more translationally-relevant stronger conditioning setting, CBD both acutely inhibited fear expression and enhanced extinction to produce longer lasting reductions in fear,” the study’s discussion reads. “These observations provide further support for the potential translational use of CBD in conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder and specific phobias.”

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition most common in war veterans, but one that affects about 24.4 million Americans. The experiencing or witnessing of a traumatic event can lead to the development of PTSD, which can elicit severe anxiety, nightmares and uncontrollable flashbacks of the event. Previous studies also indicate that cannabinoids like CBD could be beneficial for managing PTSD’s symptoms. CBD has also shown to significantly reduce anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in patients with social phobia. Its ability to reduce fear has been linked to its interaction with 5-HT1A receptors that are found in the central nervous system.

For comparison purposes, in Song’s study, some of the rats were given MK-801, a N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist known to impair the extinction of fear and thus increase freezing, and others were given D-cycloserine, a partial agonist which has shown to neither elevate or reduce freezing.

Unlike the findings in previous research, Song’s study did find that while CBD reduced freezing to near baseline levels in rats that had undergone strong fear conditioning, it impaired the extinction of fear in rats that had been exposed to weak fear conditioning.

Nineteen states have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of PTSD, but none have yet approved it for anxiety. However, CBD oil derived from hemp is legal to import and buy in all 50 U.S. states.

You can read the study, “Bidirectional Effects of Cannabidiol on Contextual Fear Memory Extinction,” published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, here.

Learn more about what CBD is and read about the previous studies that have been done examining CBD’s effects on PTSD and anxiety by visiting our education page.