No Surrender 

PTSD researcher Sue Sisley keeps up the fight and road to marijuana research to help U.S veterans

Set back is not in Sue Sisley’s vocabulary.

When the researcher was fired from her UA non-tenured clinical assistant professorship last summer, Sisley took center stage on news outlets across the country. While the UA denied it, Sisley claimed political pressure from a conservative and anti-marijuana state Legislature led to her contract not being renewed, derailing the marijuana PTSD research she’d be fighting for the past five years.

Problem is Sisley’s research is for U.S. military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and she’s grown really fond of them. They in turn have gone to bat for her on the steps of the state capitol, as well as before the Arizona Board of Regents, asking that she be reinstated.

The latest round targeted ASU, hoping it could provide a new home for her research with 50 veterans she’s been working with who live and work in Arizona. But she and her veterans have given up on ASU making a home, so Sisley told the Tucson Weekly she’s going to do her research independently and keeping it in Arizona, having recently been approved by the private, federally regulated Institutional Review Board. Besides the private research approval, Sisley is celebrating approval and funding from Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council and Johns Hopkins University partnering with her in the study. This comes with a state grant of more than $2 million.

The remaining study, however, is in Arizona. But why? Why not pack it all end and say good bye the crazyland?

“I intend to keep this research in the backyard of our opponents. I’ve lived in Arizona for 30 years and I have no intention of moving,” she says. “Just because there are a few extremists out there who oppose this work who tried to run me and my research out of town doesn’t mean I am going to roll over and allow that to actually happen. I have a duty to the veterans of this state.”

Sisley says she made a commitment to those veterans when her study was first approved by the Federal Drug Administration five years ago—the first study of its kind to received FDA approval.

Sisley says she’s disappointed that all three state universities have said no to her work, effectively turning their backs on state combat veterans suffering from PTSD in her opinion.

Reportedly, ASU representatives have said they never heard from Sisley, but the researcher says it was the university that never communicated with her and the veterans. “They walked away from us,” she says, “not the other way around.”

Sisley says they have a location selected in Scottsdale for the research, but continue to negotiate the lease agreement with the landowner. Another promising turn is that the National Institute of Drug Abuse confirmed with Sisley’s sponsor, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, that it finally had three of the four strains ready for Sisley’s research.

Sisley says the delay in getting the marijuana came from the federal requirement that it comes from NIDA and not from a private grow operation.

Sisley says that fourth strain is important to her study, as it must be a strain that is equal parts THC and equal parts cannaboids. It’s a strain many of her veterans have told her works very well for their PTSD symptoms. But because she can’t get the strain from medical marijuana or legal marijuana grow operation, she has to wait for NIDA to grow this particular kind of strain.

A typical grow takes three months, but with the feds involved, Sisley says it’s taken longer. She’s been told by the summer, but she’s thinking it will most likely be by fall because NIDA does not have a track record of growing CBD-rich marijuana.

Sisley says the private research approval has helped her get over rejection from ASU and the state, and with the three strains now available, the research is ready to move forward.

“A lot of folks rooting for us here and that’s what matters. We tried to work with ASU. We hoped UA would reconsider. Obviously the private sector was our best hope,” she says.


More by Mari Herreras

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