Medicinal cannabis for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and comorbid depression: real-world evidence

BJPsych Open. 2024 Mar 12;10(2):e62. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2024.13.


Background: Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are increasingly being used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), despite limited evidence of their efficacy. PTSD is often comorbid with major depression, and little is known about whether comorbid depression alters the effectiveness of CBMPs.

Aims: To document the prevalence of depression among individuals seeking CBMPs to treat PTSD and to examine whether the effectiveness of CBMPs varies by depression status.

Method: Data were available for 238 people with PTSD seeking CBMP treatment (5.9% of the treatment-seeking sample) and 3-month follow-up data were available for 116 of these. Self-reported PTSD symptoms were assessed at treatment entry and at 3-month follow-up using the PTSD Checklist - Civilian Version (PCL-C). The probable presence of comorbid depression at treatment entry was assessed using the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Additional data included sociodemographic characteristics and self-reported quality of life.

Results: In total, 77% met screening criteria for depression, which was associated with higher levels of PTSD symptomatology (mean 67.8 v. 48.4, F(1,236) = 118.5, P < 0.001) and poorer general health, quality of life and sleep. PTSD symptomatology reduced substantially 3 months after commencing treatment (mean 58.0 v. 47.0, F(1,112) = 14.5, P < 0.001), with a significant interaction (F(1,112) = 6.2, P < 0.05) indicating greater improvement in those with depression (mean difference 15.3) than in those without (mean difference 7).

Conclusions: Depression is common among individuals seeking CBMPs to treat PTSD and is associated with greater symptom severity and poorer quality of life. Effectiveness of CBMPs for treating PTSD does not appear to be impaired in people with comorbid depression.

Keywords: Post-traumatic stress disorder; comorbidity; depressive disorders; medicinal cannabis; treatment outcome.