VA roadblock hinders study on cannabis as PTSD treatment for veterans, researcher says


The Cannabist/ By Bruce Kennedy / August 29, 2017

Medical cannabis proponents say assistance from VA could jump-start a pioneering clinical study of cannabis in treating PTSD in veterans

The first controlled clinical trial of medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in U.S. military veterans is in jeopardy if the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System doesn’t participate with patient recruitment efforts, a lead researcher for the study said.

Arizona-based scientists have almost completed research with 22 veterans and now need to screen 6,000 to 8,000 vets to enroll an additional 54 qualifying PTSD patients in order to move the study forward, according to an Aug. 21 letter sent to VA officials by Dr. Sue Sisley, site principal investigator with Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), administrator of the federally approved study.

“There will be no improvement in veteran volunteers until the Phoenix VA hospital agrees to start cooperating with us,” she wrote in the letter shared with The Cannabist. “They have blocked access to appropriate Phoenix-area veterans with PTSD for the past two years now.”

Phoenix was chosen as an investigation site because the city’s VA hospital has the highest density of treatment-resistant PTSD patients: those who continue to suffer symptoms despite undergoing VA-administered medical treatment and/or therapy, Sisley told The Cannabist in a phone interview. But hospital officials have been uncooperative in helping inform veteran patients about the study or referring them to the research team, she said.

“All we get from them is polite responses about marijuana being federally illegal,” she said.

Sisley spoke to The Cannabist late last week from Reno, Nevada, where she was attending the American Legion’s national convention. She had hoped to meet with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to follow up on an Aug. 6 letter she sent him requesting his intervention with Phoenix VA Health Care System director RimaAnn Nelson.

“We are asking for your assistance in ordering the VA in Phoenix to allow us to … share vital information about how veterans suffering with treatment-resistant PTSD may be able to volunteer for this research,” Sisley wrote to Shulkin in the letter shared with The Cannabist.

That meeting with Shulkin didn’t materialize, but MAPS researchers did receive a critical boost from the country’s largest veterans service organization. The American Legion passed a resolution Thursday urging the federal government to “permit VA medical providers to be able to discuss with veterans the use of marijuana for medical purposes and recommend it in those states where medical marijuana laws exist.”


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