Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jul 2011
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2011 The New York Times Company
Author: Dan Frosch
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Cited: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies


DENVER - For years now, some veterans groups and marijuana advocates 
have argued that the therapeutic benefits of the drug can help soothe 
the psychological wounds of battle. But with only anecdotal evidence 
as support, their claims have yet to gain widespread acceptance in 
medical circles.

Now, however, researchers are seeking federal approval for what is 
believed to be the first study to examine the effects of marijuana on 
veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

The proposal, from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic 
Studies in Santa Cruz, Calif., and a researcher at the University of 
Arizona College of Medicine, would look at the potential benefits of 
cannabis by examining 50 combat veterans who suffer from the 
condition and have not responded to other treatment.

"With so many veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there 
is a widely accepted need for a new treatment of PTSD," said Rick 
Doblin, founder and executive director of the psychedelic studies 
group. "These are people whom we put in harm's way, and we have a 
moral obligation to help them."

In April, the Food and Drug Administration said it was satisfied that 
safety concerns over the study had been addressed by Mr. Doblin and 
Dr. Sue Sisley, an assistant professor of psychiatry and internal 
medicine at Arizona, according to a letter from the drug 
administration provided by Mr. Doblin.

But the letter also noted that the project could not go forward until 
the researchers identified where they would get their marijuana. And 
that cannot happen, Mr. Doblin said, until the project is approved by 
a scientific review panel from the Department of Health and Human 
Services, which includes representatives from an assortment of 
federal health agencies.

If the proposal is approved, Mr. Doblin said, the researchers will 
use marijuana grown by the University of Mississippi under a contract 
with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is the only marijuana 
permitted to be used in federally approved studies.

A Health and Human Services spokeswoman said the proposal was still 
under review. "The production and distribution of marijuana for 
clinical research is carefully restricted under a number of federal 
laws and international commitments," the spokeswoman, Tara Broido, 
said in an e-mail. "Study proposals are reviewed for scientific 
quality and the likelihood that they will yield data on meaningful benefits."

An institutional review board must also approve the study, as well as 
the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mr. Doblin said.

Getting final approval from the federal government could prove 
difficult, Mr. Doblin and Dr. Sisley conceded. They said it was far 
more challenging to get authorization for a study that examines the 
benefits of an illegal drug than its risks.

"We really believe science should supersede politics," Dr. Sisley 
said. "This illness needs to be treated in a multidisciplinary way. 
Drugs like Zoloft and Paxil have proven entirely inadequate. And 
there's anecdotal evidence from vets that cannabis can provide 
systematic relief."

Medical marijuana is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia. 
But only New Mexico and Delaware specifically list post-traumatic 
stress disorder as a qualifying condition for treatment, according to 
the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based group that supports 
legal regulation of the drug.

Currently, nearly a third of the 4,982 patients approved for medical 
marijuana in New Mexico suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 
more than any other condition, according to the state's health 
department. It is unclear how many are veterans.

One recent Army veteran from Texas who fought in Iraq for 18 months 
beginning in 2006, said he used marijuana three times a day in lieu 
of the painkillers and antidepressants he was prescribed after 
returning home. He asked that his name not be used because Texas does 
not allow medical marijuana.

The veteran, who said he had been shot in the leg and suffered 
numerous head injuries from explosions while deployed as a Humvee 
gunner, said marijuana helped quiet his physical and psychological 
pain, while not causing the weight loss and sleep deprivation brought 
on by his prescription medications.

"I have seen it with my own eyes," he said. "It works for a lot of 
the guys coming home."

If the study is approved, veterans who participate would be observed 
on an outpatient basis over three months, Mr. Doblin said. During two 
four-week increments, they would be given up to 1.8 grams of 
marijuana a day to treat anxiety, depression, nightmares and other 
symptoms brought on by PTSD. Researchers would also observe the 
veterans for periods when they are not permitted to use marijuana.

In addition to a placebo, researchers plan to use four marijuana 
strains in the study, each containing different levels of 
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a primary component of the drug. One of 
the strains will also contain cannabidiol (CBD), another ingredient 
thought to have an anti-anxiety effect.

Mr. Doblin said the veterans would be allowed to use the marijuana at 
their own discretion. Half will be instructed to smoke the drug, 
while the other half will inhale it through a vaporizer.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom