The federal government has given the green light to researchers who are ready to begin testing marijuana as a treatment for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, as first reported by Military.com. The study parameters were approved by the Department of Health and Human Services in March 2014 but held up by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which had until Wednesday balked at supplying the drug for clinical trials.
As many as 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans experience PTSD, up from a high-end estimate of 12% after the first Gulf War, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. An estimated 15% of Vietnam vets have been diagnosed, a disproportionate number coming from minority groups who, the VA says, served in combat zones more often than whites.
Addressing a serious issue: Recent studies show have found that a staggering 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The suicide rate among those returning from the most recent wars is roughly 50% higher than in their civilian peers, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Early plans call for the study to be conducted in Maryland and Arizona, where lead researcher Dr. Suzanne Sisley is working despite being dismissed from her job at the University of Arizona because of concerns about statewide prohibition laws, according to the Military Times. Colorado, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2000 and for recreational use in a 2012, provided Sisley with a $2 million grant to continue her studies, the Times reports.
The Times says the 76 veterans set to participate will either smoke or ingest with a vaporizer about one gram daily, then provide weekly updates to researchers. They will use three kinds of marijuana and a placebo strain, according to Military.com.
NIDA's decision to sign off on the trials, which are expected to gain final Drug Enforcement Administration approval in the coming weeks, has received support from internal review boards at the University of Pennsylvania and the Copernicus Independent Review Board of North Carolina. MAPS expects Johns Hopkins University to submit its backing soon, spokesman Brad Burge told Military.com.
Changing the dynamic: The study results could change the game on Capitol Hill, where Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) are co-sponsoring a bill, called the Veterans Equal Access Act, that would allow VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans with PTSD. Federal law currently prohibits those doctors from simply suggesting cannabis as a potential treatment.
"Our antiquated drug laws must catch up with the real suffering of so many of our veterans," Rohrabacher said during a joint news conference to introduce the bill in November. "This is now a moral cause and a matter of supreme urgency."
Now, after years of dragging its feet and tying up scientific exploration in red tape, the federal government is finally beginning the process of offering affected veterans a chance to reclaim a better life.