Cannabis use issues (also known as Cannabis Use Disorder, or CUD) are on the rise among military veterans with posttraumatic stress (PTSD). “Indeed, rates of PTSD diagnoses among veterans increased 60% between 2002 and 2007, and rates of CUD diagnoses within the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital system increased more than 50% between 2002 and 2009,” said Marcel O. Bonn-Miller of the National Center for PTSD and Center for Health Care Evaluation at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California. However, when these vets enter treatment and discontinue their cannabis use, their symptoms linger.
Anxiety increases when individuals stop using cannabis to cope with their symptoms, but until now, the cessation of cannabis in relation to PTSD symptoms had not been explored fully. To address this gap, Bonn-Miller and his colleagues conducted a study on veterans who entered treatment for PTSD with a CUD and theorized that they would have smaller treatment gains after abstaining from cannabis use than veterans without a CUD.
The researchers evaluated 260 male veterans that were receiving inpatient treatment for PTSD. They assessed the veterans at two different times over eight years, using the PTSD Checklist-Military Version. They found that the veterans who had CUD realized less change in symptom severity than those without. “Specifically, individuals with a CUD diagnosis who discontinued use, compared with those without a CUD diagnosis, had lower levels of change in total PTSD symptoms, PTSD avoidance/numbing symptoms, and PTSD hyperarousal symptoms,” said Bonn-Miller.
“In addition to these results being statistically significant, they are clinically meaningful.” In particular, those with CUD saw treatment gains similar to veterans who received no treatment at all. Additionally, with more states legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes, veterans with PTSD who use cannabis may be unknowingly negatively impacting their recovery. This study also demonstrates the relationship between PTSD and cannabis use, underscoring the importance of further research in this area. Bonn-Miller added that clinicians should provide their clients with adaptive coping techniques before they recommend cannabis cessation for the purpose of treating PTSD.
Bonn-Miller, M. O., Boden, M. T., Vujanovic, A. A., & Drescher, K. D. (2011, December 19). Prospective Investigation of the Impact of Cannabis Use Disorders on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Among Veterans in Residential Treatment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026621
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