The state of Colorado awarded a $2 million grant for research on the effectiveness of marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress, giving hope to backers of a federally approved study that the research will begin.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment decided Dec. 17 to provide $7.6 million for eight medical marijuana studies, including one on veterans with combat-related PTSD sponsored by the California-based nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
The research received approved last March from the federal Health and Human Services Department and was to get underway at the University of Arizona and other locations within a year. But the program was delayed after the Tucson, Arizona, school terminated the contract of primary researcher Dr. Sue Sisley in July.
The Colorado grant money will help support the research involving 76 veterans at two sites — in Arizona with Sisley and at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland under the direction of Ryan Vandrey. Marcel Bonn-Miller with the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Dr. Paula Riggs, University of Colorado School of Medicine, will oversee coordination and scientific integrity of the study.
MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin called the award a "big step forward for cannabis science and medicine."
"As the very first public funding that MAPS has ever received in our 28½-year history, the award clearly shows that attitudes are improving about research into the therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs," Doblin said.
Sisley and MAPS have worked for more than four years to develop the study protocol and win federal approval for it.
The protocol calls for veterans with PTSD to be divided into groups and receive the equivalent of two joints a day — 0.9 grams — to smoke or inhale by vaporization. Each participant then will submit weekly observations and confirm that he or she followed protocols.
Sisley's termination from her job has not been the only obstacle to the research. As part of the federal government's requirements, MAPS must buy Drug Enforcement Agency-licensed marijuana, which is controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and that agency is still cultivating marijuana of the correct potency of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol needed for the research.
In addition, Sisley's portion of the study needs new approval from an institutional review board, and MAPS will need clearance from the Drug Enforcement Agency once it receives a delivery date for the marijuana, Doblin said.
In an email exchange with Military Times, Sisley said she also is still looking for a place to conduct the research. She has several leads in the Phoenix area and is trying secure an academic appointment at a university.
"My goal has always been to continue this research in Arizona. I refuse to turn my back on these dedicated Arizona veterans," Sisley said.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.