Marijuana has long been known for helping veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but its effect on veterans and how the drug suppresses flashbacks, anxiety and insomnia have never been studied. Recently, a proposal for research has passed a major hurdle, taking America one step closer to understanding the mystery of marijuana’s effects.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder brought on by a traumatic experience, such as military combat, surviving natural disasters or a plane accident. The individual with the disorder relives the trauma through recurring nightmares and flashbacks.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, it is estimated that 11 percent of war veterans from Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. This number is increased to 20 percent for veterans from the Iraqi War. In total, over 256,000 veterans have potential PTSD, according to a 2012 Veteran Affairs report. This number could possibly be higher due to veterans who are not diagnosed.
A study on marijuana and its effects by Suzanne Sisley, a researcher from the University of Arizona, was recently approved by a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services known as Public Health Service. Her proposal had gone through years of various hurdles. Its first step closer to understanding the mystery occurred in 2011, after getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration. For the study to get underway, Sisley has one more request to make and would have to get approval by the Drug Enforcement Administration. How long this will take is unclear.
Nevertheless, this is known to be progress that is unheard of due to the federal government’s tight restrictions on marijuana. Strict policies are primarily due to the drug being classified as Schedule I, along with such narcotics as LSD and heroin, which declares the drug as having no medical benefits and being dangerous. In states where it is approved, the Schedule I classification prevents it from being prescribed by physicians. Only a recommendation can be made and patients would then have to buy marijuana from a dispensary that is approved by the government.
Michael Krawitz, the executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, says that due to federal restrictions, the only avenue for veteran access to cannabis is through state laws. Currently, only six states have PTSD listed as a condition qualified to receive medical marijuana. These states are Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware.
Sisley’s research, if approved, would be conducted over a 10-week period and would study 50 veterans, all with moderate to severe PTSD. Marijuana will be given to the participants in the study and the amount will range in five levels of THC from a placebo with none of the ingredients to 12 percent of THC. Also explored will be a comparison of vaporizing the drug to smoking it. The stash used would have to be from the only farm approved by the federal government, at the University of Mississippi.
Sisley says she hopes the study of marijuana’s effects on veterans will be one step closer to understanding and finding “innovative ways” of administering PTSD treatment. Brad Burge, the spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, echoes Sisley’s sentiment, saying this study has potential to take us one step closer to the development of a prescription pill based on the marijuana plant.
By Kollin Lore