With so many U.S. veterans returning home from war, there is a well established, widely accepted need for more effective treatments for Combat Disorder, better known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Despite tremendous anecdotal evidence supporting cannabis to treat PTSD in veterans, the federal government continues to blow smoke on credible academic research.
Support for medical cannabis continues to grow across the country and around the world. U.S. citizens have consistently supported legislative efforts to legalize medical use in state after state, and by significant majorities. So it seems logical that academic, government and private medical researchers would be conducting controlled clinical trials to pinpoint the efficacy of cannabis against a variety of diseases and conditions, as well as identify the best strains, dosages and administration methods for each condition.
That’s not happening. Draconian drug enforcement laws have been thrown down the gauntlet against credible marijuana research, stopping medical progress in its tracks. Two federal laws prevent qualified and respected institutions from furthering our knowledge base on the effective and best uses of cannabis as medicine.
The first is the Substance Control Act of 1970, which was passed under President Richard Nixon and sought to control the possession, sales, manufacture, importation and distribution of narcotics through a classification system, called a “Schedule,” with five separate numerical categories. The drugs are supposed to be classified based on potential for abuse and accepted medical uses in the U.S.
Schedule I narcotics are supposed to represent the most addictive substances with no accepted medical uses, and that pose a danger when administered without medical supervision. Drugs like heroin, LSD, GHB and ecstasy are all Schedule I narcotics. So is cannabis.
The federal government actually classifies cannabis equally as dangerous as heroin to patients who use it without medical supervision. If that isn’t outrageous enough, it’s even more disturbing when you consider that cocaine, opium, PCP and even meth only rank as Schedule II status, indicating that they are somehow less dangerous and more medically beneficial than cannabis.
The second policy impeding medical cannabis research is that only one facility in the country, the Marijuana Project at the University of Mississippi, is allowed under law to grow cannabis for research purposes, and they can only supply it to a tiny handful of researchers who already are approved to conduct cannabis research.
Never mind that almost nobody gets approved, or that the strains produced at the country’s only legal pot farm are known to be sub-optimal. Every institution that’s applied to legally grow cannabis for medical research has been denied, and nearly every academic who tries to get federally approved to conduct research with the stash grown in Mississippi has been denied.
Rick Dobin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to change that. Along with University of Arizona assistant professor of psychiatry Dr. Sue Sisley, Dobin developed a protocol to study the effects of cannabis on 50 veterans with PTSD as a result of combat duty and who have not responded to currently available treatments. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration even approved the protocol, provided they could legally acquire the plant for their research.
Dobin tried, applying to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services for approval to buy marijuana from Ole Miss with private funding to conduct the study. Last September, he was once again denied. Meanwhile, U.S. combat veterans with PTSD continue to suffer in silence as politics impedes medical progress. Undeterred, Dobin and Sisley submitted their FDA-approved protocol to the University of Arizona’s Internal Review Board in July. But even if their protocol is approved, they still have no way to legally obtain cannabis to conduct the study.
As a country doctor who certifies medical marijuana patients here in the Rockies, I can attest that our veterans already have proven this remarkable plant works to relieve the anxiety, depression, night terrors and insomnia from combat disorder. In the course of my medical marijuana practice, I’ve treated over 700 veterans of World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. These incredible warriors come in suffering from painful shrapnel wounds, Gulf War Syndrome, Agent Orange illness, phantom pains from amputations and PTSD. They bring me their Medals of Honor, Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and Silver Stars.
One brave Iraq vet, who lost both legs to an IED, showed me a photo of when he was a strapping 6-foot-2-inch Marine with legs. When I expressed my gratitude to a Vietnam veteran for his service to our country, he fell into my arms and wept, telling me no one had ever thanked him before.
These soldiers line up bottles of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, narcotics and other prescription medications, and they say, “Doctor, when I use marijuana, I don’t need these pills.” One veteran who survived a helicopter crash in Vietnam told me, “Pot makes the war go away, it helps me to relax and to sleep. It even decreases my pain and my flashbacks.”
Meanwhile, we lose one veteran to suicide each day and numerous others overdose from a combination of pharmaceutical medications used in a futile attempt to decrease their PTSD and traumas of war. These valiant American soldiers have unknowingly and unwittingly become subjects in the only research available that substantiates nature’s oldest and kindest medicine heals their horrors of war. It is time we the people, the medical community and our government, listen to our veteran’s research.
The fifth and final installment of this series will explore the latest research on the endocannabinoid system. Doug Allen contributed to this series. Wendy Zaharko, M.D. lives in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org ., or (970) 319-0652.