U.S.: Federal Government Approves Medical Marijuana Research For PTSD
By Steve Elliott
Medical marijuana advocates won a big victory on Friday when the Obama Administration opened the way for a University of Arizona scientist to research whether cannabis can help military veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The move could lead to more studies into the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis.
Scientists have for years been frustrated by the federal government's intransigence when it comes to approving marijuana research -- unless the study is designed to find harms, rather than benefits, of cannabis. The Arizona study had long ago been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but under federal rules, such studies can only use federally grown marijuana from the University of Mississippi, report Evan Halper and Cindy Carcamo at The Los Angeles Times. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which oversees that pot farm, is hostile to any studies aimed at examining the benefits of cannabis; NIDA normally only funds studies to find its hazards.
"This is a great day," said Suzanne A. Sisley, the Arizona researcher, who is clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona's medical school. She has been trying for three years now to get the study approved.
"The merits of a rigorous scientific trial have finally trumped politics," Sisley said. "We never relented."
According to Sisley, most other scientists have chosen to not even apply, since no approvals had been given for years. "The process is so onerous," she said. "With the implementation of this study and the data generated, this could lead to other crucial research projects."
Medical cannabis advocates said the news is an indication the federal government is finally coming to terms with the issue. More than a million Americans use cannabis legally to treat their ailments, but scientists have had trouble getting government approval to study it.
"The political dynamics are shifting," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is raising money to help fund studies like Sisley's.
Government officials, meanwhile, claimed the approval doesn't represent a change in policy, just a recognition that Sisley's proposal meets official standards for researching "illegal drugs." The research still requires the approval of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but Sisley and Doblin believe that approval will be a lesser hurdle.
Other observers of the scene are still very skeptical that the DEA, at least under its current leadership (director Michele Leonhart is a hardline Bush Administration holdover), will ever approve a study of marijuana's medical benefits.
Scientists, advocates and some members of Congress have said the NIDA hoards the nation's only supply of research marijuana for studies showing the supposed dangers of the substance.
"You have impossible burdens," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), who has worked with other members of Congress to lobby the Obama Administration to give scientists more access to cannabis. "Those are not people who are going to be involved with some clandestine production of the drug or do something nefarious. They are trying to do scientific research that will add to the body of knowledge and safety."
Currently, as a Schedule I controlled substance, marijuana is officially considered more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine under federal law. Schedule I substances supposedly have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," as well as putting users at risk of "severe psychological or physical dependence."
The Obama Administration has the power to reschedule marijuana without Congressional approval, but has shown no inclination of having the cojones to do that.
Graphic: The 420 Times