The first controlled study examining marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder needs just a handful more U.S. military veterans to volunteer as test subjects before it can be completed, the study’s nonprofit sponsor announced Thursday.
More than 2.7 million men and women have been deployed to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. As many as 20 percent of veterans may return with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data.
Many combat vets anecdotally report using cannabis to successfully treat symptoms of PTSD, but without data from a controlled study, mainstream medicine—and the VA health system—have been slow to accept marijuana as a treatment, despite pressure from Trump Administration officials who suggest cannabis may be effective.
After some difficulty, a study in Arizona sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) examining smoked marijuana as a treatment is near full enrollment and is expected to finish on time, the organization announced.
The study can accept seven more volunteer test subjects, said lead researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, a physician and psychiatrist who has been working on the study for a decade.
“We only have seven spots available for #veterans to still be enrolled in the study, but they must be screened before the end of October in order to be eligible.” —@SueSisleyMDhttps://t.co/2Mqt7HcFHi #PTSD #Medicine #Marijuana #PressRelease
— MAPS (@MAPS) August 9, 2018
Participants “must be adult military veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD,” according to Sisley. Research will be conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, where veterans will make 17 outpatient study visits over the course of 12 weeks.
The study is progressing despite significant challenges, including a lack of financial assistance from the VA, which has also blocked Sisley from entering its hospitals in search of test subjects.
Sisley was summarily discharged from her position as a professor at the University of Arizona in the study’s early stages, a firing that some say was politically motivated.
After losing the imprimatur of the University of Arizona in 2013, another research university that initially planned to sponsor with Sisley, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, also abruptly cut ties with Sisley and the study.
Hopkins announced its departure after Sisley publicly criticized the quality and potency of the research-grade marijuana provided by the federal government.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse still has a monopoly on the marijuana available to researchers in the United States, which is grown on a farm operated by the University of Mississippi. The cannabis is low-quality and low-potency, critics say, and bears little resemblance to the marijuana found at dispensaries and on the black market.
In the waning months of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans to license additional growers of cannabis for research, but the Trump administration has not acted on the more than two dozen applications it has received to date, something that has angered members of Congress from both parties.
In addition to MAPS, Sisley’s study is funded by a $2.156 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health.
According to researchers, the study “will provide physicians, patients, scientists, and regulators with critical knowledge regarding whether marijuana benefits individuals with PTSD, whether adverse consequences occur, and the impact of the chemical composition of marijuana, specifically ∆-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), on clinical outcomes. The data from the trial will be finalized in early 2019, after which the results will be prepared for publication.”
The study is still the only of its kind, despite a recent admission from the VA that it could study cannabis.