Marijuana and other cannabinoids as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: A literature review

Depress Anxiety. 2017 Mar;34(3):207-216. doi: 10.1002/da.22596. Epub 2017 Feb 28.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common in the general population, yet there are limitations to the effectiveness, tolerability, and acceptability of available first-line interventions. We review the extant knowledge on the effects of marijuana and other cannabinoids on PTSD. Potential therapeutic effects of these agents may largely derive from actions on the endocannabinoid system and we review major animal and human findings in this area. Preclinical and clinical studies generally support the biological plausibility for cannabinoids' potential therapeutic effects, but underscore heterogeneity in outcomes depending on dose, chemotype, and individual variation. Treatment outcome studies of whole plant marijuana and related cannabinoids on PTSD are limited and not methodologically rigorous, precluding conclusions about their potential therapeutic effects. Reported benefits for nightmares and sleep (particularly with synthetic cannabinoid nabilone) substantiate larger controlled trials to determine effectiveness and tolerability. Of concern, marijuana use has been linked to adverse psychiatric outcomes, including conditions commonly comorbid with PTSD such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance misuse. Available evidence is stronger for marijuana's harmful effects on the development of psychosis and substance misuse than for the development of depression and anxiety. Marijuana use is also associated with worse treatment outcomes in naturalistic studies, and with maladaptive coping styles that may maintain PTSD symptoms. Known risks of marijuana thus currently outweigh unknown benefits for PTSD. Although controlled research on marijuana and other cannabinoids' effects on PTSD remains limited, rapid shifts in the legal landscape may now enable such studies, potentially opening new avenues in PTSD treatment research.

Keywords: PTSD; cannabis; marijuana; trauma; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy*


  • Cannabinoids
  • Medical Marijuana