Learn more about the interesting relief potential with CBD and childhood trauma
Early childhood, which spans the first eight years of life, is the most critical period of time for every human being (1). During these formative years, the brain has a temporary malleability that cooperates with the child’s physical and psychological experiences to create a blueprint of reference that will act as a sort of motherboard for the duration of their lifetime. The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention has estimated that roughly 60% of American adults were subjected to abuse or other emotionally traumatic events during their early childhood years, which means that well over half of the population is at risk of trauma-related health problems: anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and more (2). Recent research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the prominent non-psychoactive chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant, through its supplementation of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS for short), could be useful to helping manage the symptoms of PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. Could CBD also be a viable tool in helping an adult overcome the residual psychological troubles stemming from early childhood trauma?
How Trauma Works
Trauma is generally defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience (3),” and at least 20% of people who experience trauma will develop mental health problems as a result (4). The most prominent of these problems is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a trauma-induced condition marked by vivid flashbacks, extreme anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts, emotional detachment, difficulty maintaining relationships, and violent mood swings (5). While there remains considerable academic debate as to what formally constitutes PTSD (in terms of both the criteria for symptoms and the definition of trauma), the body of research has grown tremendously since the condition first appeared in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. Among some of the newer research is Dr. Alexander Neumeister’s 2013 study designed to pinpoint a biological basis for trauma-related stress disorders (6). Using radioactive tracers to illuminate the pathways of the CB1 cannabinoid receptors, Dr. Neumeister and his researchers at the at NYU School of Medicine discovered that participants with PTSD had significantly more CB1 receptor activity in areas of the brain (specifically the amygdala-hippocampal-cortico-striatal neural circuit) associated with anxiety and stress. Further, they proved that people with PTSD have lower levels of the endocannabinoid neurotransmitter known as anandamide (the “bliss” molecule) when compared to people without PTSD. The results of this groundbreaking study suggest very strongly that the human endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in determining the predisposition toward, and severity of, trauma-related stress disorders in adults.
Childhood trauma happens when a young person experiences or witnesses an emotionally overwhelming event during their formative years (7). Such events include, but are not limited to, sexual abuse, neglect, violence, civil unrest, war, an incarcerated parent, familial instability, malnutrition, and exposure to substance abuse. These events can have devastating long-term consequences that are markedly potent because the preliminary trauma happened while the brain was still developing. If a trauma-related disorder isn’t diagnosed until the afflicted person has reached adulthood, the symptoms can be particularly difficult to treat. The most common treatment options include various forms of cognitive and behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and prescription medications like benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and antidepressants (8). Because of the complexity of these disorders and the large degree of variety among human brains, considerable clinical trial-and-error is sometimes required before determining an appropriate individual solution, which may consist of a combination of treatments.
PTSD and childhood trauma
Cannabidiol (CBD), through the supplementation of the ECS, has long been known to inspire the therapeutic properties of the ECS, but a flood of research undertaken within the last decade has uncovered that these curative attributes might extend far beyond what was originally assumed. An article published in July 2018 by Frontiers of Neuroscience details the results of several years of research studies, documenting the accumulation of scientific knowledge about CBD, the ECS, and PTSD (9). The ECS, discovered in the early nineties, is a human biological system of neurotransmitters that bind to the two cannabinoid receptors: CB1, which helps regulate anxiety and learning, and CB2, which is primarily associated with the immune system. Cannabinoids such as CBD activate the ECS and help the brain normalize the release of associated neurotransmitters. It is thought that CBD can offer a boost to the ECS to help in managing the symptoms of PTSD and it’s shown to happen by minimizing CB1 receptor activity in areas of the brain associated with the retrieval of traumatic memories (10). A fully supplemented and healthy ECS also subtly inhibits the deterioration of anandamide, which helps regulate the mood fluctuations and anxiety commonly seen in patients with PTSD (11).
CBD and Childhood Trauma
Since PTSD is often a manifestation of early childhood trauma, and CBD boosting the ECS has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of PTSD, it stands to reason that CBD could be helpful in coping with childhood trauma as an adult. Of course, a medical professional should always be consulted when dealing with trauma-related disorders, and CBD should in no way be used as a substitute for therapy or pharmacological treatment, but rather as another powerful and effective tool in an arsenal of weaponry for the ongoing battle against PTSD.