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Marijuana to Treat PTSD?
While the debate rages on over the pros and cons of use of medical marijuana, one key hurdle may have been overcome. Lack of approval for access to and use of marijuana for research purposes has kept researchers stymied for many years.
Now, that appears to be changing as first the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and then the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have given a green light to researchers to study marijuana’s effects on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This is considered a huge step forward for studies involving medical marijuana. The researchers involved are from the University of Arizona, and their proposal to study marijuana’s effects on soldiers with PTSD was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) long ago. However, the researchers were hampered by not being able to purchase marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Since the Mississippi research arm of NIDA is the only federally sanctioned source for marijuana, researchers couldn’t proceed with their proposed study.
The study’s chief financial backer, according to NBC Tulsa, is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The group, based in Santa Cruz, raises money to help fund studies such as this one. Among its backers are several philanthropists, including a Rockefeller and two Pritzkers.
Are American Attitudes Toward Marijuana Shifting?
In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, among the wide-ranging questions was one concerning substances that respondents said was most harmful to a person’s overall health. Surprisingly, sugar ranked higher than marijuana as more detrimental to health. In order of most harmful to least: tobacco (49 percent), alcohol (24 percent), sugar (15 percent), and marijuana (8 percent).
More than one million Americans are currently taking medical marijuana, mostly to deal with chronic pain, according to Live Trading News.
Marijuana Still a Schedule I Substance
Although the University of Arizona’s research project may be getting off the ground, the fact remains that marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the federal government’s Controlled Substance Act. This means the drug has a high risk for abuse with no accepted medical applications.
NIDA has turned away researchers interested in studying the potential benefits of illegal substances in the past, focusing its research on drug abuse and addiction risks.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has called for a classification change in marijuana in order to make it easier to conduct research using the drug. As it stands, current classification prevents doctors from prescribing marijuana in 11 states where medical use is permitted. All they can do is recommend medical marijuana to patients who then need to purchase it through government-sponsored dispensaries (in most states).
Currently, there are six states that specifically list PTSD as a qualifying condition to receive medical marijuana. The states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada and New Mexico. In the absence of federal medical marijuana laws, state laws offer the only way to protect veterans’ access to medical marijuana.
What the University of Arizona Study Will Measure
The research at the University of Arizona, spearheaded by Professor Suzanne Sisley, will measure the effects of five different potencies of vaporized or smoked marijuana in treating PTSD symptoms in 50 veterans.
The 10-week study will include veterans with moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD. Sisley told USA Today that “It’s hopefully a great starting point to begin to uncover some innovative ways of treating PTSD.”
Estimates by the Veterans Administration of the number of soldiers who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with PTSD are 11 and 20 percent, respectively. PTSD is often linked with depression, anxiety, flashbacks and sleep deprivation. An estimated 7.7 million American adults have PTSD, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Long-standing speculation by physicians of medical marijuana’s benefits is that it could be used to calm parts of the brain linked to overstimulation and anxiety, but little formal research has been conducted.