Effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have proved extremely elusive to researchers. For some, the legalisation of cannabis, and the accompanying changes to the process of using cannabinoids in pharma research, could present an opportunity to develop new therapies for PTSD.
Allied Corp, a Canadian cannabis R&D company, recently announced a partnership with Evoke Neuroscience to better define the changes in the brain that occur during FDA-approved cannabis use. We talked to Allied’s CEO Calum Hughes about cannabis’s potential for PTSD therapeutics.
Ruairi Mackenzie (RM): How commonly are cannabinoids used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Calum Hughes (CH): The use of cannabinoids to treat PTSD is becoming a much more common treatment regime. Historically, cannabinoids were difficult to prescribe, as national legislation restricted scientists from studying their therapeutic efficacy. Without this research and with the lack of a product monograph, in the past it was difficult for doctors to know the proper strain and dosage necessary to treat issues like PTSD. There has been, and currently is, an education gap in the community – with the growth of research, the medical community will become more accepting of the usage of cannabinoids to treat PTSD.
I would say that the medical community really started to look at using various strains of cannabinoids to treat illnesses and issues following the FDA’s approval of using a cannabinoid-based oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with epilepsy in children. This helped to grow awareness towards developing, prescribing and utilizing these plant-based drugs.
At Allied, we’re committed to developing pharmaceutical products that focus on treating mental illness, specifically targeted at PTSD and other forms of mental trauma for veterans and first responders. We recently filed for our first United States provisional patent application for cannabinoid and terpenoid pharmaceutical compositions and methods for treating PTSD.
RM: Are these compounds prescribed by physicians, or are users self-medicating?
CH: It’s a bit of both – people are realizing the medical benefits associated with cannabinoids. Progressive physicians in the past were prescribing cannabinoids despite the lack of research and acceptance in the medical community. Additionally, people were doing research on their own and consulting with their physicians before self-medicating.
The Canadian Medical Association, or CMA, has created courses and education sessions on cannabis prescriptions and success stories. This instills a more systematic approach to using cannabinoids for the treatment of various ailments. This developed approach has stemmed from grassroots research, followed by the development of pharmaceutical products. That initiation of acceptance by the medical community comes from the research done by scientists in the field.
RM: Why has research into their effectiveness been limited?
CH: The research into their effectiveness has been so limited due to legislation surrounding the plant. It’s been illegal to prescribe cannabis, and this is changing slowly but surely, state by state. Physicians in the past could counsel their patients on the potential benefits of cannabis, however they couldn’t prescribe it because of initial legislation. Patient need will drive medical research, and anecdotal case study evidence is necessary to allow for a wider understanding and adaption of cannabinoids for medical usage.
RM: What has Allied’s research into their effectiveness concluded?
CH: We’re right in the stage of researching the effectiveness of utilizing cannabinoids to treat PTSD. We’re currently using a PCL-5, a medically validated severity measurement tool, that tests how severe the PTSD is in a patient. We’re using this tool to do pre- and post-evaluations, and then again three months later to see if they have been sustained. Making sure that this treatment approach is academically supported, ethically and medically validated and nationally endorsed every step of the way is extremely important to us.
RM: What techniques have been used in this research?
CH: We’ve come to an agreement with Evoke Neurosciences to use their FDA-approved brain scan tools to measure the brain pre- and post-treatments. This is another data scan in addition to the medical validated PCL-5 tool that we’re using.
RM: What mechanisms might explain any effectiveness of cannabis for the treatment of PTSD?
CH: The physiology of the PTSD disease target is complex. Studies have shown that the parasympathetic nervous system is heightened in the patient. This is similar to other disease targets such as chronic pain and others. Resetting the nervous system is a key part of our model of care. If one's nervous system is constantly in fight or flight mode, one will be in a state of hyper vigilance at all times. A stimulus that might seem very small in a normal state can be extremely amplified to a PTSD patient. We are finding in our research that not only cannabinoid molecules, but also key smaller terpene molecules are proving to be efficacious in treating the hyper-vigilance and anxious state that exists in PTSD.
In our research, we are focusing on targeting terpenes, which are the fragrant oils that give cannabis taste and smell, to identify which terpene has the most effect on brains affected with PTSD. With our research partners, we are working on creating cannabidiol models with specific terpenes to determine the most effective combinations to treat PTSD.
There are documented studies showing that brain neurotransmitters such as anandimide, more specifically low levels of anandamide, seem to exist in the PTSD brain. Target natural health products and pharma products that act as CB1 receptor agonists and anandimide boosters in the human brain seem to be efficacious in part of the healing journey in the patient suffering from PTSD. There needs to be an educational component that matches the right medication, or strain and dosage of cannabis, to the right person. We don’t want people to consume cannabinoids that don’t match their situations or illnesses. Psychotropics, for instance, could make symptoms related to PTSD worse. Cannabidiol has calming effects without the presence of psychotropics.
Calum Hughes was speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Science Writer for Technology Networks