The Cannabinoid Receptors and PTSD

We’ve talked about the endocannabinoid system in a past blog, but only briefly touched on the cannabinoid receptors. In this blog, we’d like to explore the cannabinoid receptors just a bit more before we move on to another topic. Research scientists are always eager to pounce on things that are waiting to be dissected, analyzed, broken down to their smallest component. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is one of those things and it is a malady that affects thousands of military personnel and average citizens alike. According to NYU researcher Alexander Neumeister, “There’s not a single pharmacological treatment out there that has been developed specifically for PTSD.”

A recent study done at NYU School of Medicine concluded that there might be a connection between the effects of PTSD, marijuana and the number of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Cannabinoid receptors are mechanisms that are part of the endocannabinoid system. They are uniquely structured to be able to bind only with cannabinoids from the marijuana plant and endocannabionoids that are generated naturally within the body. There are two known cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, numbered in the order in which they were discovered. The cannabinoid receptors play a role in signaling messages from the brain to the body and they transmit information about memory, pain, mood and appetite, among other things.

Previous studies have shown that when CB receptors are combined with cannabis they can reduce anxiety, which is a major element of PTSD. The NYU study had 60 participants; some of them had PTSD, some had experienced trauma but were not diagnosed with PTSD, and some had experienced no trauma but were diagnosed with PTSD. They were all given a tracer to illuminate their CB1 receptors, then they underwent a PET scan. It was found that the PTSD sufferers had more CB1 receptors than the healthy subjects in the parts of the brain that produced anxiety and fear.

Since the PET scan was able to show the abundance of CB1 receptors in the brains of people with PTSD and showed those without the disorder having much less, the study suggested that their findings could lead the way to diagnosing PTSD accurately. Today, PTSD diagnoses are derived only from subjective observations, without any physical techniques, which makes it difficult to diagnose it with accuracy. The NYU research offered a biological interpretation for the disorder by showing the concentration of cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which in turn points to the discovery of a way to actually “see” PTSD in patients.

The lead researcher for the study, Alexander Neumeister had this to say, “There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressant simply do not work.” He also added, “that anecdotal evidence has shown that some PTSD sufferers who use marijuana, a cannabinoid, experience more symptom relief than with antidepressants.”

Cannabinoid receptors are miraculous and integral parts of our bodies. They play a role in our health and well-being and our physical healing. Now they might be able to play a role in healing our heroic military men and women who suffer from PTSD.