LOS ANGELES (CIRCA) — When it comes to testing cannabis' effects in helping treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the plant is up against a catch-22.
"When people wonder why there's not more research on cannabis as a treatment for PTSD, it's because the U.S. government has systematically impeded cannabis research for decades," said Dr. Sue Sisley, president of the Scottsdale Research Institute.
PTSD is a condition that can occur in people who have experienced severe trauma. The best-known examples are in troops who were traumatized on a tour of duty.
"PTSD is actually a cluster of different symptoms," said Natalie Ginsberg, the policy and advocacy director for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). "Cannabis is particularly effective because it works with the endocannabinoid system, which regulates our whole body."
MAPS, in collaboration with the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona, has spent the last few years researching the use of cannabis in the treatment of PTSD.
"So, basically, we conduct controlled trials on cannabis flower, and our current study is an FDA Phase 2 trial looking at cannabis for treating veterans with PTSD," said Sisley.
Past efforts mainly examined how cannabis can treat PTSD through observational studies as opposed to clinical trials, which is what the medical community relies on for validation and to change federal policy. Although research is still underway and there's already proof that cannabis can help treat PTSD symptoms, there are still many obstacles to overcome.
"The biggest challenge that we've had in our field of researching cannabis for PTSD is literally doing the research, which is really astounding, considering we're doing research with psychedelics like MDMA and LSD more easily," said Ginsberg. "The reason that we're blocked with cannabis is because the government only allows us to use one source of cannabis at the University of Mississippi to do this research. And it’s really just inadequate.
"They don't have the strains that we need. But beyond that, most importantly, it's grown by the government. And because it's grown by the government, we cannot use it for our final phase of FDA research."
But there's another challenge awaiting the veterans looking to cannabis for help: Because marijuana is still considered illegal by federal law, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can decline to assist veterans who test positive for the plant.
"One of the challenges that I currently have is they won't prescribe my medication, which I need for pain, if I have cannabis in my system," said Devante Stroman, a retired U.S. veteran. "This is the biggest obstacle that we veterans and everyone has right now, because it's approved through our state but yet the federal government says no."
And Stroman says he can definitely see the benefits of cannabis.
"It calms me, it helps with my anxiety and my depression," he said. "The PTSD wasn't really as bad when I was in the service, more so when I got out."
So, if we have strong, anecdotal evidence that cannabis helps treat PTSD, why hasn't it been brought to market?
"We know that these groups like the private prisons, law enforcement, big pharma, all have a deep, vested interest in suppressing cannabis research," said Sisley. "And if there is data from randomized, controlled trials suggesting that cannabis could be beneficial for treating PTSD, that is very harmful to their bottom line.
"Their revenue stream depends on cannabis remaining illegal."
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