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Experts Debate Usefulness of Marijuana in Treating PTSD

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Brain scientists are debating whether marijuana could be a useful treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), NPR reports.

Some animal experiments suggest THC, the ingredient in marijuana that provides its feel-good qualities, can modulate feelings of fear and anxiety. But scientists are concerned that marijuana has limitations as a treatment for PTSD, and note there has never been a rigorous scientific study about marijuana’s effect on people with the disorder.

Thousands of veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have asked the federal government to give them access to marijuana to treat their PTSD, the article notes. Several states, including Maine, allow people with PTSD to have access to medical marijuana.

Dr. Kerry Ressler of Emory University says THC’s effect on fear does not appear to be lasting. Prolonged exposure makes brain cells less sensitive to the chemical, he notes. Andrew Holmes, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says marijuana use can be harmful to people with PTSD because it can cause short-term memory loss, increased appetite and impaired motor skills.

Holmes is among the scientists testing drugs that work like marijuana, but with fewer side effects. Studies in humans are just beginning, and will take years to complete.

A study published last year found a connection between PTSD and the number of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These receptors, called CB1, are activated when a person uses marijuana.

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