Jul 162014

By Linda Kor

Veterans and other individuals residing in Arizona who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will now have the option of using cannabis to treat the symptoms of that illness. State Health Director Will Humble recently made the decision to allow the use of marijuana for the relief of PTSD, but has also stated that there has been no research documented that indicates a cure.

This decision does not mean that marijuana will be readily available to those patients. Humble has also stated that physicians can only recommend marijuana for their patients who have already undergone more conventional treatments, including the use of pharmaceutical antidepressants, without relief.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, more than 50,000 Arizonans have qualified under the list of conditions to receive 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks to ease the pain and discomfort associated with a myriad of illnesses ranging from cancer to glaucoma.

Though many patients reportedly find relief by using cannabis, research regarding the potential palliative and curative benefits of marijuana remains a challenge for many scientists.

Marijuana remains classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance, which is defined as the most dangerous of drugs with no medicinal value. The classification places cannabis in the most restrictive category of controlled substances, alongside drugs such as heroin and LSD.

There is only one federally sponsored farm in the U.S., located at the University of Mississippi under the direction of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and it is the only legal source for cannabis for research facilities throughout the country. Since the late 1960s the facility has provided only a limited number of strains to researchers and in order to access those strains, researchers have to undergo a rigorous approval process.

One such scientist, Sue Sisley, has found that even getting rare approval from the federal government doesn’t mean that the barriers for research have been removed. Sisley, who has dedicated herself to researching the potential benefits of cannabis for people suffering from PTSD, was terminated from her position as a research scientist at the University of Arizona last month for what she believes is her advocacy of marijuana in political circles.

As an advocate for further study of the plant, she stated that in a recent Arizona Capitol Times article that she had been meeting with politicians and attending rallies in support of her research, and openly criticized those lawmakers who opposed her study.

Earlier this year Sisley pushed for legislation that would allocate $1.2 million of the $9 million in surplus funds available from the state’s medical marijuana patient processing fees to further her research. She believes her actions caused conservative lawmakers to push the university for her termination.

That bill (House Bill 2333) passed through the House, but was blocked by Senator Kimberly Yee (R- Phoenix) in March. Yee stated the funds would be better used to educate youth on the dangers of using recreational marijuana and successfully halted the bill’s progression.

Humble denied the request to add PTSD to the list of illnesses that would benefit from cannabis when it was originally presented in December, stating that he believed there was a lack of scientific evidence as to whether marijuana is helpful in treating or providing palliative care for PTSD. He reversed that decision after a hearing in which the results of a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in March provided evidence that marijuana may be helpful in the palliative care of PTSD in some patients.

Twenty-three states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, with the most recent being New York. Three states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, have pending legislation or ballot measures in place for legalization this year.