Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might soon involve treatment from a nontraditional source, medicinal marijuana. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 7.7 million people in the United States suffer from the disorder. Veterans Affairs claims that about 11-20 percent of military service members who served duties in Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD.
Suzanne Sisley, a researcher from the University of Arizona is very close to having the ability to conduct a study to assess the effects of marijuana on PTSD veterans. She claims there is a “mountain of anecdotal evidence” that the drug helps treat post traumatic stress disorder symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, and flashbacks, but there has not yet been a controlled trial to test the details of how it works.
Sisley is the lead researcher for the future study, and though it has taken her proposal three years to get this close to approval by all the required government agencies, the time is drawing near. Approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came in 2011. At that point, researchers were still unable to buy the marijuana needed for the study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
On Friday, a huge obstacle was overcome when approval for the study came from the Public Health Service, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The agency also recently gave permission for the chief financial backer of the study, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studes (MAPS), to purchase the marijuana from the NIDA. “MAPS has been working for over 22 years to start marijuana drug development research, and this is the first time we’ve been granted permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA” said the organization in a statement. MAPS supports marijuana legalization and medical research of the drug. The marijuana used for the study will come from the University of Mississippi’s federally sanctioned marijuana research farm, the only one that exists in the U.S.
Sisley is still waiting to start the study that will help determine whether or not medicinal marijuana might soon be involved in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. She still needs approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), so she can begin her research. The study will last 10 weeks and involve 50 veterans with moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD. The participants will smoke or vaporize marijuana from plants that have different amounts of THC, the active ingredient. There will be five varying amounts, from placebo to 12 percent. The study will also focus on the difference between smoking and vaporizing.
The recent approvals received for the study have received acclaim from drug researchers who see this as a huge turn in U.S. policy. NIDA usually keeps its research focused on drug abuse and addiction risks. Researchers looking to study possible benefits of illegal substances are usually turned away. The federal government’s Controlled Substance Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. This means that it has a high potential for abuse, and had no medical uses.
A Vietnam veteran, and critic of the plan to use marijuana to treat PTSD symptoms, wrote about his opposition in a Government Executive column. He expressed the belief that the drug would only numb the effects of PTSD and only provide short-term relief.
The executive director of a group called Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Michael Krawitz, said since there are no federal laws on medical marijuana “State laws are the only way to protect veterans’ access to cannabis.” He added that there are six states that specifically list post traumatic stress disorder as a condition as that is qualified to receive medicinal marijuana. Those states are Nevada, Maine, New Mexico, Delaware, Connecticut, and Oregon.
The American Medical Association has asked for the classification of marijuana to be changed, so there is easier access to the drug for the purpose of medical research. Schedule I drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, cannot be prescribed by physicians. Even in states where medicinal marijuana is allowed, a doctor can only recommend it to their patients, who then go to a government-approved dispensary to purchase it.
With the approval of several previously adamant government agencies against the idea, involving medicinal marijuana in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder might soon be a reality for the people who are suffering from it. Up to this point, the classification of the drug has greatly limited the amount of medical research into its effects. This fact makes Sisley’s potential new study that much more groundbreaking, and quite possibly a cornerstone.
By Twanna Harps