There remains only one more bureaucratic obstacle in the way of researchers acquiring approval for the first exploration of how medical marijuana is beneficial for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is working with the backing of the College of Medicine in University of Arizona, are in the process of initiating a three-month study of combat veterans who have served time in Afghanistan and Iran. The plan is currently on hold and its initiation depends on the agreement of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Public Health Service for selling the marijuana necessary for the research. The other scenario in which the plan can be initiated is if it becomes legal to import marijuana.
The study requires a triple blind and a placebo controlled environment. The proposal was meticulously prepared and begins with recommending a sample size of 50 veterans. These have to be veterans whose PTSD symptoms have shown any signs of improvement using conventional medical practices. All the participants have to refrain from using marijuana for at least thirty days prior to participating in this experiment. Once the program begins, the veterans will be asked to only consume a maximum of 1.8 grams in a day, via smoking or vaporizing. The test group will be supplied on a weekly basis with different strains of marijuana which will have THC content that ranges from 0-12%. The objectives of the study are twofold. According to Sisley, who is one of the researchers, they would be in a position to figure out which symptoms the marijuana can help alleviate and what would be the optimal dosage. Sisley is also aware of the public opinion that prevails regarding medical marijuana. According to her, they will not be taking any liberties if they get the chance to conduct the study. She said that the study was extremely rigorous and controlled, and it wasn’t being done for the purpose of “getting vets high”.
The acceptance of the calming properties of marijuana amongst soldiers who were psychologically scarred would be a thing of the past, if anecdotal evidence was regarded as sufficient. Statistical evidence for supporting that particular hypothesis can be acquired from the state of New Mexico where marijuana is a legal prescription provided for soldiers with PTSD. As a matter of fact, having PTSD is the criteria for the state to issue a license for medical marijuana, which is a significant 27% of the total. The statistic was not really surprising for Sisley, but she stated that circumstantial evidence was insufficient to persuade the range of government agencies that she interacts with. According to her, it was necessary that politics should be superseded by science. She stated that the approach to treating PTSD had to be multidisciplinary and that drugs such as Paxil and Zoloft had proven to be inadequate.
In Colorado, the legislature of the state could not pass a proposal that was the equivalent of the proposal in New Mexico. Colorado’s significant veteran population was prohibited from citing PTSD on applications for medical marijuana. Brian Vicente, who belongs to the Sensible Colorado organization, has become an advocate for medical marijuana for veterans, once the rejection had taken place. According to Brian, the federal government was divided in a number of ways. The Veterans’ Administration has had some positive stances on veterans using medical marijuana. However, there is NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and other such organizations that have created an obstacle to the research that other government agencies have allowed. This is a scenario that Sisley is also familiar with on a first hand basis.
While the American government agencies remain divided over the issue, other countries have taken the lead in providing arguments that favor Sisley’s theory. The Israeli University of Haifa has published a study that shows that marijuana administered on rats within a day of experiencing trauma, effectively halted the development of PTSD. The study was conducted by Dr. Irit Akirav’s, and also revealed that there is a certain period of time that has to be considered. According to Akirav, there is a certain period of time immediately after the trauma and during that period, the administration of medical marijuana can aid in preventing symptoms that resemble those of PTSD, in rats. The experience is not erased, but the development of symptoms can be halted. In Spain, Switzerland and Germany, there are actually programs, some of which have been funded by the government, that are exploring the use of MDMA for inhibiting PTSD symptoms.
The lack of decisiveness on part of the government has resulted in unforeseen consequences, for medical practitioners. One of them is Dr. Phil Leveque, a veteran of World War 2. His medical license was revoked. The basis for this was a big number of medical marijuana permits that he had authorized for veterans with PTSD. Leveque has estimated that he had authorized approximately a 1,000 permits and using the best of his judgment. 100% of his patients claimed that it was a much better solution compared to any other drug that they had used, whether they had been veterans from World War 2, Vietnam, Korea or any of the more recent conflicts. There are sixteen states along with the Colombian District that have legislation that allow the usage of marijuana for medical purposes. However, physicians of Veteran Affairs have been categorically forbidden from recommending any patient to enroll in any state’s program for medical marijuana.
Data from Veterans Affairs has revealed that from 2002-2009, there were approximately 1 million troops that left their active duties in Afghanistan or Iraq and were qualifying for VA care. This number will continuously rise and shows that there is a need for treatment for PTSD that is more effective. PTSD is a very significant consideration for troops that are still on duty in Afghanistan. Approximately 6-11% of the troops are suffering from PTSD. The numbers increase for Iraq war veterans ranging between 12-20% for veterans that have returned. These are statistics that have been published by government agencies. Veterans Affairs is cognizant of the fact and has been funding unconventional studies of PTSD, such as using yoga and therapy dogs.