Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2014
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2014 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Authors: Evan Halper and Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times
Page: A-2


WASHINGTON - The Obama administration handed backers of medical
marijuana a significant victory Friday, opening the way for a
University of Arizona researcher to examine whether pot can help
veterans cope with post-traumatic stress, a move that could lead to
broader studies into potential benefits of the drug.

For years, scientists who have wanted to study how marijuana might be
used to treat illness say they have been stymied by resistance from
federal drug officials.

The Arizona study had long ago been sanctioned by the Food and Drug
Administration, but under federal rules, such experiments can use
marijuana only from a single, government-run farm in Mississippi.
Researchers say the agency that oversees the farm, the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, has long been hostile to proposals aimed at
examining the drug's possible benefits.

"This is a great day," said Arizona researcher Suzanne A. Sisley, a
doctor of internal medicine and addiction psychiatry, and a clinical
assistant professor of psychology at the university's medical school,
who has been trying to get the green light for her study for three

"The merits of a rigorous scientific trial have finally trumped
politics," Dr. Sisley said. "We never relented, but most other
scientists have chosen not to even apply; the process is so onerous.
With the implementation of this study and the data generated, this
could lead to other crucial research projects."

Backers of medical marijuana hailed the news as an indication that the
government had started coming to terms with one of the more striking
paradoxes of federal drug policy: Even as about 1 million Americans
are using marijuana legally to treat ailments, scientists have had
difficulty getting approval to study how the drug might be employed
more effectively.

"The political dynamics are shifting," said Rick Doblin, executive
director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies,
or MAPS, a group based in Santa Cruz that is raising money to help
fund studies such as Dr. Sisley's. The group counts several prominent
philanthropists among its backers, including two Pritzkers and a

Government officials said the approval did not represent a change in
underlying policy, just a recognition that Dr. Sisley's proposal meets
official standards for research using illegal drugs. The research
still requires approval of one more agency, the Drug Enforcement
Administration, but Dr. Sisley and Mr. Doblin expressed confidence
that that would prove a lesser hurdle.

In its letter approving the application, a government review panel
noted what it called "significant changes" in the study that justified
its approval now. Mr. Doblin said the changes did not affect the
study's "core design."

Federal restrictions on pot research have been a source of tension for
years. Researchers, marijuana advocates and some members of Congress
have accused the National Institute on Drug Abuse of hoarding the
nation's only sanctioned research pot for studies aimed at
highlighting the drug's ill effects. They had pointed to Dr. Sisley's
experience as a prime example of what they called an irrational and
disjointed federal policy.

"You have impossible burdens," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who
has enlisted other lawmakers to lobby the administration to give
researchers more access to the drug.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt