Cannabis and Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Narrative Review With Considerations of Benefits and Harms

J Nerv Ment Dis. 2020 Aug;208(8):619-627. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000001172.


Despite substantial controversies concerning patients' reports of benefits from cannabis for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and inconsistent research findings regarding its efficacy and adverse risks, some states have already recognized PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. Consequently, medical cannabis can also be provided for patients with complex PTSD who experience additional posttraumatic symptoms of affective dysregulation, negative perception of the self, and difficulties in relationships due to a history of repetitive trauma. In this article, we explore cannabis use in relation to benefits versus harms that might occur relative to specific complex PTSD symptoms and comorbidities. Whereas some symptoms related to PTSD per se (e.g., anxiety, insomnia, nightmares) may be benefited, others that are more characteristic of complex PTSD (e.g., dissociation, reckless behavior, and substance abuse associated with dysregulated affect) may be aggravated. Therefore, clinicians treating patients with complex PTSD who use or seek cannabis should carefully assess patients' motivations and the impacts of particular use patterns on specific symptoms. Clinicians and patients should be aware of and fully discuss the significant number of potential adverse effects of cannabis use, several of which might impede patients' participation in beneficial psychotherapeutic, social, and medical interventions.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Marijuana / adverse effects*
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy


  • Medical Marijuana