1. Wakeful rest after the event
Ideally, a PTSD treatment would not actually treat PTSD but prevent it from developing in the first place. Research suggests that the answer to this may lie in the way the memory is filed by the brain, and a UCLA study (2) — that shows a period of “wakeful rest” following a traumatic event may reduce memory intrusions from PTSD later on — might hint at a way to make sure you file a memory correctly.
The study went like this: The researchers had participants look at disturbing images and then divided them into two groups. One group was allowed to rest and the other group was asked to perform a task that required them to remember numbers on a screen. The results showed that the participants who rested had fewer memory intrusions the following week. So what explains this? When we’re resting, a part of the brain called the hippocampus gets to work to process memories, sort them, and place them in context.
There’s still a lot more to learn about this, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on. In fact, based on this study I think it’s worth taking a few minutes to rest after any negative life event — big or small — to give your brain a little space to process, instead of immediately trying to distract ourselves.
If PTSD does occur, an interesting new therapy making a lot of waves is EDMR, which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EDMR is a type of psychotherapy that involves paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while you purposefully remember the event. According to researchers, the small shifts that occur in the way you re-experience the memory allow it to be processed more appropriately. EDMR has been very effective in scientific studies; for example, a review study (3) showed that seven of 10 studies analyzed showed that EMDR therapy worked quicker and more effectively than cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is all the rage in the wellness world. A quick internet search will produce thousands of CBD products, including CBD-infused bath bombs, eye creams, chocolate bars, and so, so much more. I don’t think CBD is a miracle cure, nor do I think everyone will necessarily benefit from it, but the research on CBD for PTSD is compelling.
For example, a 2019 study (4) on 11 participants showed that routine psychiatric care plus oral CBD helped reduce symptoms in adults with PTSD, particularly in patients who experienced frequent nightmares. Another study on rodents (5) revealed that CBD can facilitate the eradication of aversive memories and block their reconsolidation, which is when memories that have been previously processed are recalled and actively consolidated again and again.
So how does this work? Likely through the endocannabinoid system, which is the larger regulatory system in the body that cannabinoids, like CBD and THC, interact with.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic chemical produced in certain types of mushrooms. It interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain and has shown promise for a wide range of health conditions, including cluster headaches, OCD, addiction, and of course, PTSD. In fact, a company in Jamaica, where psilocybin is legal, has already developed a nasal spray that delivers microdoses of the chemical with the hopes of treating PTSD and depression.
And first, this seem pretty “out there” but actually, research has shown (6) that psilocybin can facilitate fear extinction in animals and promote neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to undergo changes. Psychedelics have also been shown to decrease reactivity (7) n a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is where the fear response originates. Oftentimes, amygdala hyperactivity is observed in patients with PTSD.
About 10 percent of us will experience PTSD in our lifetime, so these treatments are “thinking outside the box” at its best and represent newfound hope for a lot of people.
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