Research On Cannabis To Treat PTSD Moves Forward

Researchers are preparing for a Phase II trial on veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD and will test five different types of marijuana to determine if it has any effect on their symptoms.

by Aaron Kase reports:

Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans is one of the most visible domestic consequences of America’s wars abroad. Many of the nation’s soldiers return home and find themselves unable to function in society anymore after their experiences on the battlefield, susceptible to overwhelming anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks. Severe symptoms of PTSD can be resistant to all forms of conventional treatment, but many veterans have found relief in a simple plant: marijuana.

Unfortunately, former members of the military still face a number of obstacles in the path of legally acquiring medical cannabis. However, a study on the safety and efficacy of using marijuana to treat PTSD, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, could help pave the way for veterans to gain access to the medicine they need.

Researchers are preparing for a Phase II trial, set to take place at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and at another site in Phoenix. The study will include 76 subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD and will test five different types of marijuana to determine if it has any effect on their symptoms.

The research is being coordinated by Marcel Bonn-Miller, Ph.D, with Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D leading the team at Johns Hopkins and Sue Sisley, M.D in charge in Phoenix. The state of Colorado awarded a grant of $2,156,000 to fund the study.

Although cannabis is legal is four states plus Washington, D.C., and is permitted for medical use in an additional 19 states, it is considered a Schedule I substance by the federal government, classified as a drug of abuse with no medical value. Veteran’s Administration doctors are still banned from recommending marijuana to their patients, even in states where it is legal for medicinal usage.

The study has been years in the making. Sisley and MAPS founder Rick Doblin first began discussing the research in 2009, but the group had to overcome numerous hurdles set up by the government, including approvals from the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Public Health Service, as well as various permissions from the research institutions involved.

The study still needs the approval of the Drug Enforcement Administration before it can proceed. The DEA recently inspected the Baltimore site where the study will take place and found no issues, but an official go-ahead is still pending. The Institutional Review Board at Johns Hopkins will need to approve the research as well, although it has already granted a provisional green light pending the DEA decision. Renovation at the Phoenix site is scheduled to be completed this month prior to inspection by the DEA.

There is ample anecdotal evidence that using cannabis can help PTSD sufferers de-link their association of stimuli like loud noises to the trauma they experienced during war, but clinical research has so far been extremely limited, thanks in no small part to federal regulations. If it returns promising results, however, the MAPS study is poised to be a crucial piece of evidence that could bring medical marijuana even further into the mainstream and provide an invaluable boost to the quality of life of America’s veterans.

Show More

Related Articles


  1. Veteran PTSD Epidemic Calls For Action
    The results of the National Vietnam Veteran Longitudinal Study presented at the American Psychology Association convention on August 8 2014 show there are 283,000 active cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam Veterans. Earlier this year, during the Kentucky Assembly Interim Session Joint Hearing of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee held July 10, 2014, focusing on Veteran PTSD cases, 3 representatives from the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Louisville who work extensively with Veteran PTSD patients testified. They reported that there are 350,000 cases of PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. VA Guidelines for PTSD call for psychotherapy ranging from counseling and group therapy to exposure and cognitive therapies. These are educational therapies that would help in most mental health situations. Then they went on to list the drugs. Drugs with familiar names such as Paxil and Zoloft, Klonopin, Xanax and Prozac were named. They listed antidepressants, mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, anxiolytics and sleep aids, not to mention the various pain medications as many of these Veterans also suffer from physical as well as mental pain. They went on to say there is no medication that works for PTSD. The reported cases of PTSD totaling 633,000, does not include Korean, Gulf War or any Veterans of the small engagements of the Cold War.
    Veterans suffering from PTSD that live in States having medical cannabis laws are using cannabis as treatment for their condition. These Veterans as reported by groups such as Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMAC), relate stories of relief from many of the symptoms of PTSD. Many claim medical cannabis has allowed them the first decent night’s sleep since the onset of their PTSD and rely on it as their main and perhaps only effective medication. Indeed, Veterans applying for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis program report a 70{b9c41f62a37c687b31b667cf69204c41d59060d4b370c48d31ec094649de4955} reduction in symptoms when using medical cannabis.
    What should be done? Considering that, Veterans in medical cannabis States are using medical cannabis with great success and that almost half the States currently have medical cannabis laws and that the number of cases of PTSD among Veterans is of epidemic proportions, we call on the Veterans Administration to begin immediately to provide medical whole plant cannabis to Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    Currently the Federal Government provides tins of medical cannabis to survivors of the old Compassionate Care Program. These patients receive a tin of 300 cannabis cigarettes every month and it would be quite simple to expand this program to Veterans living in States without medical cannabis laws. For Veterans in medical cannabis States the VA could simply do a voucher with the local Cannabis Pharmacies to provide the medicine these Veterans sorely need.
    We also call on the VA to immediately begin a study of the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating the many symptoms of PTSD. Dr. Sue Sisley of the University of Arizona has managed to clear every hurdle placed in front of her in her quest to do a PTSD study of Veterans and cannabis. For the first time in 77 years the Government is actually providing the cannabis! Certainly if a civilian can shepherd a cannabis study through every hurdle placed in front of it by the Federal Government, then the Veterans Administration, a branch of the Federal Government should be able to!
    Cannabis is currently listed as Schedule1, Dangerous and having no medical value. This rating was temporary in 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act was passed and it is still temporary to this day. A simple rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule 2 or lower, which can be accomplished by a signature of the President or Attorney General, would allow the Veterans Administration to provide this desperately needed medicine to the heroes who undoubtedly deserve it.
    There is plenty that can be done! We call on the President, Congress, the Attorney General and the Veterans Administration to, ‘Git to doing it!’

Leave a Reply