More than three years ago, a researcher at University of Arizona asked the federal government for permission to study the effectiveness of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder ... and was denied. Last week she cleared a major hurdle for the groundbreaking study.
Sue Sisley, M.D., wants to study smoked marijuana in treating veterans who suffer from the ailment, which affects service members disproportionately compared to the general population and which many states include among qualifying illnesses for medical marijuana cards. The study would be all official and scientifical and stuff, meeting the strict standards of the Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials.
Sisley originally filed a protocol with the FDA in 2010—the body that is the final authority on medical trials in the U.S. The FDA initially rejected Sisley's study, but later approved it on medical grounds, after she adjusted some aspects of her protocol. After the FDA gave its blessing for the study, an arm of the Drug Enforcement Administration—the only agency who can provide legal cannabis for research—rejected it.
Last week the Public Health Service gave its nod to the study, though it still needs approval from the DEA, an approval that hinges mostly on whether the UA can make appropriate measures to secure the cannabis used for the study. That seems likely, since groundwork has already been laid on a state level for such research. Arizona law was changed last year to make just this type of research possible on college campuses here.
Arizona lags behind numerous states on allowing treatment of PTSD with cannabis. Last year, state Department of Health Services Director Will Humble rejected PTSD as an addition to the state list after a petition from state residents, despite a growing body of evidence that it can be effective. The latest state—Michigan—added PTSD to its list of qualifying illnesses just last week.
There is mounting evidence from around the globe that PTSD can treat the anxiety and other symptoms from the PTSD, which is a delayed reaction to stress that can hit victims months or even years after trauma, such as that experienced in combat. There are studies from Israel and Germany and huge piles of anecdotal evidence from the United States. Many PTSD sufferers treat their symptoms with cannabis after qualifying for other reasons, such as chronic pain.
It's sad that so many government officials across the nation—adding PTSD in Michigan was not without opposition—are blocking important work like Sisley wants to accomplish. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the arm of the DEA that is keeping the lid on cannabis for research, has rejected numerous clinical trials. Let's hope this one—which has reached a level of approval not yet attained by any clinical cannabis trial—relents this time.
It's ironic that the first clinical trial in the nation could happen in a state where PTSD is not an approved medical marijuana qualifying illness. Maybe after Sisley's study, the esteemed Mr. Humble will see the light and allow PTSD on our qualifying illness list, because he cites a lack of clinical trials as a reason for rejecting it. Maybe if we could add just one trial, he would see the value.
There are still hurdles to clear—NIDA and Will Humble chief among them—before she can help our former service members. But it looks like she is well on her way to helping Arizona veterans find relief. Wouldn't that be awesome? Why yes, it would be awesome. Very awesome.
Cross your fingers.