Pubdate: Wed, 02 Jul 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Brittny Mejia
Page: 3


The University of Arizona has abruptly ended its support of a 
researcher who was leading a controversial and first-of-its kind 
study on medical marijuana use for veterans with post-traumatic 
stress disorder.

Dr. Sue Sisley, the principal investigator, had approval from the 
Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Public Health Service, as 
well as conditional approval from the UA Institutional Review Board 
for the study of marijuana's effect on PTSD. Her goal was to start 
the study this summer.

Late last week, university officials told her they wouldn't renew her 
contract, essentially stopping the study before it started.

She said she believes that action occurred because the study became 
too controversial, at one point creating backlash in the Legislature.

"What they've done is harm the veterans by delaying this very crucial 
research by possibly a year or more when (veterans) really needed 
this research to be done," Sisley said. "We were right on the cusp of 
being able to implement this research and the UofA just cut it off at 
the knees and hurt the veteran community in Arizona more than they'll 
ever realize."

The study, which was to include 70 veterans suffering from PTSD, 
would have been the first and only randomized controlled trial in the 
country looking at marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress 
disorder, Sisley said.

Sisley, who works at the UA's Phoenix medical school, said university 
officials e-mailed her on Friday saying they would not renew her 
appointment as assistant director in the Arizona Telemedicine Program 
and as coordinator of special projects in research administration at 
the Phoenix medical school, effective Sept. 26.

On Monday afternoon, she said she also received a letter saying that 
her academic appointment as clinical assistant professor in the 
Psychiatry Department would end, meaning she can no longer perform 
her research at the UA.

"It'd be different if it was just one of the three positions," she 
said. "But this is an across-the-board termination, so it suggests 
that this is a direct attack on the fact that I was at the forefront 
of very controversial research."

George Humphrey, assistant vice president for public affairs for the 
Arizona Health Sciences Center, said in an e-mail that the university 
would not comment on personnel matters.

But he said that the university has policies and procedures that 
would allow for faculty who are departing the university to continue 
to pursue their research projects elsewhere.

In May, the UA signed a contract with Sisley and the 
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a non-profit 
research and educational organization, to enable Sisley to conduct 
the randomized controlled trial at the university. The non-profit 
sponsored the study, and committed to providing the funding, which 
would total nearly $1 million.

Sisley, who has spent five years trying to bring the 
medical-marijuana study to fruition, said she believes the decision 
not to renew her contracts resulted from her education and advocacy 
on the barriers to marijuana research, which include finding a home 
and funding for the research.

She said she plans to appeal and has reached out to the American 
Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

While Sisley said her primary focus is on scientific and academic 
pursuits, she added that she has become politically active because of 
the barriers on federally regulated marijuana research.

Earlier this year, when state Sen. Kimberly Yee blocked a hearing of 
a bill that could have helped fund Sisley's study, some residents 
launched a recall effort and the UA logo became affiliated with the 
effort to recall her, Sisley said.

In April, Sisley said she received a phone call from Joe Garcia, 
senior vice president for Health Sciences, regarding her political activism.

He instructed her to provide a letter for the UA administration team, 
wherein she explained she did not participate in the recall effort or 
link the university to it. She also stated in the e-mail that she 
never used university resources to participate in activism. Garcia 
was unavailable for comment.

Sisley said she never received a response to her e-mail.

"They can call it a non-renewal, they can say I wasn't fired, but 
when you strip a faculty member of 100 percent of their salary 
support, it's pretty clear what they're doing," she said. "I think 
that this is retaliation for trying to provide the public with 
knowledge about the barriers to marijuana research."

The university has not received any political pressure to terminate 
any employees, said Chris Sigurdson, senior associate vice president 
of university relations. Sigurdson said the university has been 
supportive of medical-marijuana research and had gone to the 
Legislature in the past to voice that support.

Some reasons for non-renewal include funding changes and changes 
within a unit, according to Helena Rodrigues, director of human 
resources, strategy and planning at the UA.

"Any individual employee should not have an expectation of continued 
employment past the end of an employment-contract period," Rodrigues said.

While the FDA approved Sisley's study three years ago, she was 
awaiting a permit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 
which she couldn't receive until the UA gave her a location to house 
the study. The study would have measured how specific doses could 
treat PTSD symptoms.

Sisley said if she were forced to take her research to another 
university, she would have to go through a new review process, which 
could take another year.

State Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson,who earlier this year introduced the 
bill in the Legislature that would help fund Sisley's study, said the 
research would have been useful in understanding medical marijuana.

"I think if she does not do the study at the UofA, I hope that 
another university would pick her up and pick this research up 
because it's very valuable to us," Orr said. "I hope that the UofA 
will continue to look at this type of research as well."

Ricardo Pereyda, a former UA student and combat veteran with PTSD, 
said cannabis works better for treating his symptoms than 
prescription medication.

But Pereyda, 32, said he believes it's essential to conduct a study 
like Sisley's to provide concrete answers to whether marijuana works 
in treating PTSD.

"Thousands of veterans have committed suicide in the time that this 
study has been delayed," Pereyda said. "How many more are going to 
continue to commit suicide? This could potentially be something that 
could see a reduction in those numbers."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom