Studies have already shown the benefits of marijuana for those suffering from PTSD, but can our government agencies be convinced?
Researchers are one bureaucratic hurdle away from gaining approval for the first clinical examination on the benefits of marijuana for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), working under the auspices of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, are preparing a three-month study of combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The plan is on hold until the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Public Health Service (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) agrees to sell researchers the marijuana needed for research -- or until the marijuana can be legally imported. Social and political intrigue surrounding this research is far reaching, attracting opposing factions who must cede biases for the greater good and well-being of servicemen and servicewomen.
The University-controlled study Sisley advocates calls for a triple-blind and placebo-controlled environment. A meticulously prepared proposal recommends a sample base of 50 veterans, whose PTSD symptoms have not improved under current standard medical practices. All participants must agree to abstain from marijuana use for 30 days prior to participation. In two ensuing 60-day periods, the veterans are asked to either smoke or vaporize a maximum of 1.8 grams of marijuana a day (the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes). The test group will be furnished a weekly supply of various strains of marijuana, with THC levels ranging from 0 percent to 12 percent. Sisley's study objectives are twofold. "With this research, we can actually figure out which symptoms it might help with, and what an optimal dosing strategy might look like." She is also mindful of public opinion regarding medical marijuana. "If we get a chance to do this, we're not taking liberties. This is a carefully controlled, rigorous scientific study. We're not sitting around trying to get these vets high."
If anecdotal evidence were the standard, acceptance of marijuana's calming properties among psychologically scarred soldiers would be a topic relegated to the past. Statistical evidence to support that hypothesis could be petitioned from the state of New Mexico, where medical marijuana is legally prescribed for PTSD. The state's number one diagnosis for a medical marijuana license, a noteworthy 27 percent of the total, lists PTSD as the qualifying criteria for issuance. That statistic comes as no surprise to Sisley, but she stresses circumstantial evidence is not enough to sway the wide range of government agencies she deals with. "We really believe science should supersede politics," she said. "This illness needs to be treated in a multidisciplinary way. Drugs like Zoloft and Paxil have proven entirely inadequate."
"If we get a chance to do this, we're not taking liberties. This is a carefully controlled, rigorous scientific study. We're not sitting around trying to get these vets high."
In neighboring Colorado, the state's legislature failed to pass a proposal mirroring New Mexico's. It effectively forbade Colorado's large veteran population from citing PTSD on medical marijuana applications. Brian Vicente, of the Sensible Colorado organization, became an advocate for veterans after the legislative rejection. Vicente has watched the government fight itself over this issue. "The federal government is, in some ways, divided," Vicente said. "Agencies like the Veterans Administration have taken some fairly decent stances of medical marijuana." Quickly, he adds a qualifier: "But, then you have the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] and NIDA [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] and organizations like them blocking research that other parts of the government are authorizing. It's another example of the federal government being schizophrenic and flat-out wrong on marijuana as medicine." This is a frustrating scenario Sisley has encountered first-hand. "I can't help but think they simply don't want to move forward," she said. "Maybe they figure if they stall long enough, we'll give up and go away."
As arguments among American government agencies continue, other nations are taking the lead generating medical arguments that advance Sisley's theory. A study at Israel's University of Haifa showed that marijuana administered to rats within 24 hours of suffering psychological trauma effectively blocked the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Irit Akirav's study even concludes there is a time-frame that has to be taken into consideration. "There is a critical window of time after trauma, during which synthetic marijuana can help prevent symptoms similar to PTSD in rats," Akirav stated at the time. "It does not erase the experience, but can help prevent the development of PTSD symptoms." In Germany, Switzerland, and Spain there are currently programs, some government funded, utilizing MDMA (from which the "ecstasy" drug is derived) as a possible inhibitor of PTSD symptoms.