In the old days, people talked about something called “shell shock”. It was understood that a particularly traumatic time during warfare could cause someone to develop a psychological instability and an inability to function in their normal daily lives.
However, over the years we’ve come to understand the existence of something we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The condition, which actually affects about 4% of all Americans, is characterized by chronic anxiety and an inability to escape traumatic memories of a particular incident experienced in the past.
A journey through the history of medicine and psychology will show that the symptoms associated with PTSD have persisted for hundreds of years, even though the official designation has only been around for just a few decades.
Our understanding of this disorder is intimately wrapped up in the idea of a particular traumatic experience, something an individual has gone through on a personal level at some time in the past, the memories of which can be triggered by particular environmental stimuli of a sudden and often loud nature – think of sudden gunfire or an explosion or a car crash nearby.
In effect, it is a hypersensitivity to sudden or alarming stimuli in near proximity.
And there is plenty of research that defines this in terms of brain functionality. With modern medical imaging, scientists and medical researchers are able to document shifts in brain scans of individuals suffering from PTSD, with a distinct focus on comparing such an individual’s brain in different states over time.
The end result is an understanding that the physiological feature marking PTSD is an excessive stimulation of the amygdala – otherwise known as the fear center of the brain.
Evolution has hardwired us to have an ability to survive life-threatening circumstances by means of an early warning system that is sometimes not even apparent to our conscious mind.
If you imagine primitive man walking through a jungle hundreds of thousands of years ago, you can see what an advantage it might be for such an individual if a predator is suddenly leaping at him from behind. It would take much longer to see the predator, think about what it is, weigh various options, plan an escape, and then start to take action.
Instead, what happens in such a circumstance is that various senses alert the brain to the attack and, before the conscious mind gets involved at all, the amygdala triggers the fight or flight response instinctively, flushing the body with adrenaline, which works as a supercharger for reflexes and muscle action. The body then instinctively leaps forward or sideways, lashes out, and flees as fast as possible.
By the time the conscious mind has any idea what’s going on, a series of actions has already occurred.
However, one can imagine what a problem it might be if this system becomes dysfunctional, and the amygdala sounds the alarm even when nothing dangerous or life-threatening is anywhere to be found. This is exactly what’s wrong for those suffering from PTSD.
CBD and PTSD
You might be interested to find out that the endocannabinoid system is actually intimately involved in the retrograde signaling that trains the amygdala to become hyperactive.
Traumatic experiences are defined by the laying down of a long-term memory that informs the playbook for the amygdala in the future. Our minds are very flexible that way – our instincts are present but can be fine-tuned or honed by our new experiences.
CBD has, in several ways, helped those suffering from PTSD manage their lives in a more effective manner.
First, CBD’s ability to naturally raise serotonin rates and bind with serotonin receptors allows for a greater presence in the synaptic gap of this neurotransmitter such that it crowds out cortisol, which is something like the stress chemical of the body.
Second, CBD works to help deficits in the functionality of the endocannabinoid system, which can lead to something like a reprogramming of the amygdala through a retrograde signaling process.
Finally, CBD functions to block presynaptic endocannabinoid receptors from allowing the system to ramp up its adrenaline production. This directly cuts off the body’s alarm system as it begins to fire.