I tried CBD for PTSD and here’s what happened

Note: the contents of this blog describe an individual experience, are not medical advice, and it’s important to find the right treatment for you.

Long ramble incoming. I’ve wanted to talk to you about this from the day I started taking it but I knew I had to be responsible in what I’m sharing, and I had to be sure that I’d been taking CBD for long enough to get and give a true picture.

How this came about

I shared recently that I was experiencing night terrors and will be going back to therapy as a result. I’ve been dealing with this since around May time, and after experiencing two in one night and sleepwalking, I scared myself and tbh I had just really had enough. It was happening almost every night and when I went to bed I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It was starting to effect my day-to-day life and I knew it wasn’t sustainable, so I did loads and loads and loads of research.

It turns out that night terrors in adults are really, really rare and most Google results are all about children (in which night terrors can be common). So after trawling through pages and pages of Google Search results I turned to forums, Facebook Groups, YouTube videos to find out how people are treating their night terrors and what the recommended treatments are. In adults, the most common treatment for night terrors seems to be prescribed medication or different types of therapy – which I’d already decided I wanted to do, but I needed something for the meantime. My experience of psychiatric medication isn’t all that positive and I actually gave up on my SSRI treatment because the side effects were so bad so this wasn’t my favourite option – but to be completely honest I was at the point of thinking that if I had to do it again, I would. Something’s got to give.

Anyway, I looked into different options based on results from health websites and the recommendations of others like reiki, going to a sleep clinic, waiting to see if more therapy helped, but the same thing kept cropping up time and time again: CBD.

CBD was first recommended to me as being helpful for anxiety disorders back in March, but I must admit I was really wary. I (completely admittedly) fell for the stigma. CBD is one of over 100 ingredients in the cannabis plant.

Anyone who knows me personally will know that I am pretty intolerant of recreational drugs, so for me to get on board with CBD and break that stigma it was going to take some astounding results and reviews, certainty around safety and a lot of Googling.

Key facts about CBD: a summary

OK bear with me here as I only learned this recently. The body has an endocannabinoid system which regulates some key functions like sleep, appetite, mood, anxiety, stress and more. CBD (and other cannabinoids, found in broccoli, ginseng, carrots, so I’m told) basically tell our endocannabinoid receptors to do their thing and transmit a message that essentially says ‘regulate me please and thanks.

CBD is still being widely researched in studies around the world so you do have to dig a bit to find answers to specific questions you might have. I personally felt that I had access to enough information to feel comfortable, but it’s of course individual. In the studies that I did find, PTSD came up all the time – as well as a few other things like chronic pain, anxiety, heart problems and more – and this to me was exciting. PTSD is never included in stuff because it’s almost deemed as if you’re ‘too far gone’ to respond to treatment and this very blog is proof, my loves, that we are not.

Anyway so I’m reading these studies and watching videos from people who claim that CBD has literally ‘changed their lives’ – and without the horrific side effects that come with traditional psychiatric medication – wondering why I hadn’t looked into this sooner. The only thing to check is that it doesn’t interact with any other medication that you’re taking, and that it won’t make your blood pressure too low (although this appears to only be the case for really high doses) – do your research. So now I just needed to deal with the stigma I’d put on it – much like so many people out there. I won’t go into all the details because I’m aware this is long already and I’ve barely even started, but in brief:

  • No, CBD cannot get you high – as long as it contains 0% THC
  • No, CBD is not psychoactive (mind-altering), once again it’s the THC that does that
  • Yes, it is legal in the UK (and most other countries)
  • No, it is not addictive
  • No, it does not show up in drugs tests
  • No, it’s not secretive or purchased on the dark web – I get mine from Holland and Barrett

There is quite a lot of information out there about CBD and what it does, how, and the World Health Organisation have shared some reports if you’re after more info (WHO has deemed it as safe) – there are many, many more reputable sources than myself for all the key info, I’m just sharing my experience.

My experience of CBD for PTSD

So after extensive research, I was convinced. I looked into the multiple ways of taking CBD (you can get chewy sweets like vitamins, sprays, oils, vape liquid, creams) and went for an oil: this is supposedly the most effective way because it gets into your system more quickly (something to do with it being under your tongue instead of digested in the stomach like food). I then researched dosage – this is different for everyone so look into this a lot.

So there I am with my (surprisingly expensive) CBD oil and quite a lot riding on this. As with any mental health treatment it’s important to be aware that it usually takes weeks (yes, weeks) for a noticeable difference because they’re usually cumulative treatments (they build up in your system over time) and as CBD is also a cumulative treatment, I was prepared for this to be the case. It took 20 minutes.

I was feeling anxious when I took it – just the usual day-to-day stuff and a bit of worry over starting new treatment, how I would react etc. after previous experiences – and after about 20 minutes my brain fog had cleared.

My immediate thought was that it tastes absolutely rancid (I’m still not quite over that – it’s pretty gross).

My next thought was how subtle the difference is, and yet the impact it has. I almost expected that if it was going to work I would get this ‘hit’ of something, I don’t know, joy, sleepiness, maybe I’d conk out, and I was prepared for all of that and it never came. There is no definitive moment where it kicks in or anything.

But I realised I could think clearly. I could think about one thing at one time and my rushing thoughts had stopped. I could properly listen. I was able to be rational: I could hear a sound or feel a sensation without overthinking it, questioning it or scaring myself with it. I had gained the ability to be truly mindful and focus only on what I was doing – something I’ve always tried really heard to do but found difficult – and my mindset was significantly more positive.

The most interesting thing about it all though was that I didn’t realise how much I needed it. How chaotic my mind was. I thought I’d been doing pretty well (and I was, compared to how I have been in the past) but when I look back now it’s like wow I was chaotic. As time went on I realised I could appreciate the little things in life again – a feeling I’ve really missed. I remember thinking ‘is this how ‘normal’ people experience life?‘ or ‘is this how I would have lived if I’d have stuck with my meds?’

So now I’m thinking OK Hannah, this could be a placebo, a coincidence or down to something completely different. Don’t jump the gun, you need to trial this for longer. This is me trying to be rational.

CBD for Night Terrors

So here’s the big one: did CBD help to prevent my night terrors? Yes.

To begin with I started with two doses per day: one in the morning, one about 30 minutes before I went to bed. After all it is really my sleep experiences that got me taking this, the other day-to-day improvements truly are a bonus that I didn’t really know I could solve and I am now equally as grateful for those, but I knew that my sleep would be the biggest test.

Anyway on the first night, I went to bed as normal reminding myself that it’s highly likely that I’ll need to take this for longer before it makes a noticeable difference to my night terrors, if it’s going to.

It didn’t prevent my night terrors straight away, it put me in control of them first – just for an extra little win.

On the first night I took CBD, I went to bed as normal (it doesn’t make me immediately sleepy as you might expect, I just go to bed when I feel ready as I did before) and I started to dream the same sort of thing I always dream when I’m having a night terror (there is a common theme with mine, and you know it’s not a nightmare – it’s hard to explain). This time, though, I was sitting up like usual and I just thought ‘this is a dream.’

If you have PTSD you will understand the significance of this. If you don’t, it’s basically controlling an uncontrollable panic. Panic that’s completely and utterly irrational (the ration and logic part of your brain literally shuts off during PTSD flashbacks, according to Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score).

It was as if I’d just clicked a ‘stop’ button and it was instantaneous. I was able to tell I was dreaming, shrug it off and go back into restful sleep. No shouting, no panic.

Sometimes I have no recollection of my night terrors, so in the morning I asked the usual ‘did I do anything last night?’ ‘Nope.’

But I still had to be prepared for this to be a coincidence, so I gave it more time. There is no way it can be that easy.

What happened when I gave it more time

Within a week I could tell that my morning dose of CBD was wearing off sort of early afternoon time, my fuzzy tension head and difficulty focusing would be back just like before, but I was also aware that I needed to use it consistently and for a few weeks to feel the true benefits, so I adjusted it very slightly to start with, by reducing my morning and evening doses a little and adding another one in the middle (not taking any more, just spreading it out). I decided to try that for a bit and then having found that to work better for me, I stuck with that approach.

After trying this out for a bit I figured that my current CBD intake was successfully preventing my night terrors and taking an edge off of day-to-day shitness, but there was still a definite awareness of stress and tension, my hands would still subtly shake sometimes (as opposed to like, ALL the time, so this is still an improvement) brain fog creeping in a bit more often than I’d like and I would still get a bit spacey sometimes. I was also waking up in the night having decreased my evening dose to fit one in during the day. Most nights before I started taking CBD I’d wake up at around 5am (night terror or not) for like no reason and then go back to sleep. Instead of sleeping right through like I had been, the reduction of my evening dose brought this back. So I waited a week to be sure, quick blood pressure check, and increased my dosage slightly. This actually only brought me up to the recommended dose on my bottle, but I started low and careful.

I found pretty early on that your body will tell you what it’s making of this. At first my brain was clearly lapping it up as if to say ‘where have you been all my life’ but this is why it’s important to give it time: as more situations arose and some time went by I knew in myself that I needed to increase it to manage my PTSD more effectively. Listen to your body, it’s totally individual.

The final verdict

CBD oil is very expensive and my first bottle ran out quickly. Holland & Barrett do buy one get one half price and also accept student discount – they also do ‘subscribe and save’ where you get it quite a bit cheaper if you decide it’s working for you and want to give it a crack longer-term, but ultimately it’s still expensive. And it tastes disgusting.

But it works.

I have had no night terrors since my ‘this is just a dream’ experience, which was on my first night taking CBD. Since then, zero. My anxiety isn’t cropping up as much, I’m not constantly rushing, I’m much more present and therefore grateful. Quite often living with PTSD has felt like living in a haze and I’ve described it before as seeing ‘life through shit-tinted glasses’. It’s not like that anymore. I always dissociated in the shower, now showers are relaxing and I don’t want to get out – none of this is groundbreaking stuff! It’s everyday life stuff that I couldn’t be more appreciative of. My flashbacks are hardly happening and when they do they’re much shorter – although it’s important to mention that EMDR treatment in the past helped me make huge improvements here – but I actually LAUGHED after a flashback recently because I was so like ‘ok, whatever’ about it. Like ???

I feel like my body is working better (in terms of stuff like digestion, appetite etc). I’m much more rational and less inclined to those wretched thought spirals that are much like a symptom search on Google: you’ve gone from A to B to absolutely dying in approx. three minutes. There is more pleasure in life – I honestly had no idea how ‘numb’ I was before. I just thought it was normal – or my normal, at least. When I look back on even two weeks ago my mind is blown about how rushy and chaotic I was and I hardly even realised – and I was blind to so much of life around me.

Now my normal has changed. I’m still me but with just a little more of all the good stuff. I feel more like me.

I’m still going to see my therapist as planned and chat stuff through and decide on a course of action but to be honest, I have never felt more normal – and people have no idea how much of a luxury that is.

I really think this could help a lot of people.

CBD oil doesn’t turn me into a positive ray of sunshine – PTSD is still PTSD at the end of the day, and I have the personality I have – but it makes me feel more stable, and that’s plenty to be grateful for.

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