Pubdate: Wed, 29 Oct 2014
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Orlando Sentinel
Note: Rarely prints out-of-state LTEs
Author: Scott Powers, Central Florida Political Pulse
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Arizona doctor says veterans need research with medical marijuana and
PTSD but study is stymied.

Are people waiting for controlled, scientific research to determine
whether marijuana has legitimate medical effects for various
illnesses, notably post traumatic stress disorder suffered by
countless military veterans?

So is Dr. Suzanne Sisley, an Phoenix-based clinical psychologist and
internist who got FDA approval to conduct such a study in 2011. More
than three years later, she still is waiting for federal red tape to
end so the government might provide her with research marijuana to run
the actual clinical trials, she told students at the University of
Central Florida Monday.

In Florida, if Amendment 2 is approved by 60 percent of Florida voters
in the Nov. 4 election, medical marijuana would be broadly legalized.
PTSD, a mental illness caused by a traumatic or life-changing event,
could be one of the conditions that doctors could certify for
marijuana use. The amendment's language leaves it to doctors'
discretion to determine whether a medical condition is "debilitating,"
and whether marijuana benefits would outweigh risks.

Sisley is controversial. She is both a highly-outspoken proponent of
PTSD-marijuana research and clinical use of the drug, and a national
lightning rod for critics of medical marijuana. In June she was fired
from the University of Arizona Department of Psychology, according to
the Los Angeles Times. She blamed politics. The university did not
elaborate to the LA Times, except to deny politics led to her
termination. Sisley said she still has not been given a reason.

This week she is touring Florida lecturing on behalf of United For
Care, the John Morgan-led organization that put Amendment 2 on the
ballot and is campaigning for its passage.

Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for the Amendment 2 opposition group, Vote
No On 2, declined to comment on Sisley or the prospect of marijuana
use by veterans with PTSD.

"Our campaign is not about the medical efficacy of marijuana, it's
about this vaguely worded amendment that opens the door to de-facto
legalization," Bascom said.

Sisley said she has treated numerous veterans with PTSD in her
practice and heard more and more confide they were using marijuana to
self-medicate, and were satisfied it was working for them. Medical
marijuana is legal in Arizona.

"It was impossible to ignore the anecdotal reports from these veterans
about the benefits they were experiencing from whole-plant marijuana,"
she said.

Since then she's largely built a practice dealing with PTSD sufferers
and said through her practice and her growing fame on the topic she
has met "thousands" of veterans and others suffering from PTSD who
told her they were using marijuana medicinally, particularly to combat
symptoms of sleep deprivation, night terrors, flashbacks and

So, she said, she proposed launching a controlled study, in which she
would work with several groups of veterans with PTSD who have not
found help from conventional treatments. In her proposal, they would
smoke marijuana of varying strengths in controlled, video-taped
conditions. She said got FDA approval, and then got red tape, and
still has not been able to acquire federally-provided cannabis for her
research. Since she got fired, she also lost her host laboratory for
her clinical trials.

"The word 'marijuana is so radioactive we can't find a home for this
research," Sisley said in a UCF lecture sponsored United For Care, and
the university's Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter.

To date, little research has been done on marijuana effects on
veterans with PTSD. A New Mexico study was convincing enough that
Arizona and other states quickly adopted PTSD as an official condition
eligible for marijuana she said. But no one, she said, has done the
long-term, controlled, blind study she intends.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs follows federal law, which
classifies marijuana as a class 1 narcotic -- highly harmful with no
redeeming value -- though the VA passed a new regulation earlier this
year indicating that veterans in states that have legalized medical
marijuana should advise their VA doctor if they have a private doctor
certifying them to use it.

Research cited on the VA's website mainly looks at how marijuana use
has increased among veterans with PTSD, as a symptom, substance abuse.
However, the VA's website also cites a study published in March in the
journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, by Marcel O. Bonn-Miller,
Kimberly A. Babson and Ryan Vandrey, that evaluated veterans using a
California medical marijuana dispensary, who said they used marijuana
to help improve sleep, and to better cope. The researchers' reported
those subjects with high levels of PTSD were more likely to use
cannabis to improve sleep, and for coping reasons more generally,
compared with those with low PTSD scores."

Sisley said the veterans she is treating tell her they are using as
little marijuana as possible, because they want to live normally, not
stoned. She said her biggest concern as a psychiatrist is what she
labeled the "epidemic" of veterans suicides, and wants to know if
marijuana can help ease that situation.  
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