Despite attaining approval for the study from the Food and Drug Administration in April 2011, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was just notified by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that it will not authorize the legal sale of the 13 pounds of government-produced marijuana needed for the study.

Studies Need to Be More Strictly Structured

Citing safety problems, a lack of research expertise, and issues with the study design, HHS rejected MAPS's request to obtain the drug, stating that the agency would reconsider its decision should the organization revise its proposal.

MAPS Director Rick Doblin stated that the government's ultimate intention in blocking the supply of the research-grade drug is to thwart the study altogether. He noted that since 1986, his group has faced constant obstruction by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration in its efforts to conduct medical marijuana research.

Sue Sisley's Potential Experiment

The study in question, to be lead by Sue Sisley, M.D., was to be conducted as a triple-blind, randomized research on fifty veterans with PTSD whose treatments with medication or psychotherapy have failed. Five different potencies of the drug, delivered via smoking or as a vapor, were to be evaluated for their impact on such symptoms as nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia and anxiety.

PTSD is a mental disorder triggered by a traumatic event. While some victims recover from harrowing experiences, others develop PTSD with debilitating symptoms that impact their personal and professional lives. Isolation and withdrawal are common reactions, as well as irritability, angry outbursts, and hypersensitivity to certain situations, places, and people that remind the patient of the event. Many suffer from flashbacks, sleep problems, extreme anxiety, and difficulties concentrating.

After more than a decade in two overseas wars, combat soldiers are returning home in alarmingly high numbers with PTSD symptoms. Many do not seek help due to fears of being stigmatized or overlooked for military promotions. Others also suffer from physical injuries that accompany their emotional wounds, and various national agencies have stressed the critical need for improved mental services for veterans.

Medical Marijuana Uses

Marijuana has been prescribed for a host of illnesses, including asthma, glaucoma, premenstrual syndrome, anxiety, migraines, and pain. Available in synthetic forms as an alternative medical treatment, it is controversial nonetheless. In the United States, federal law prohibits the use of the herb in any form, but several states have approved its use for medicinal purposes.

MAPS is a nonprofit organization involved in education and research promoting marijuana as a viable option for medical conditions that are resistant to traditional treatments.

A recent Israeli study showed a complete reduction in PTSD symptoms in stressed lab rats treated with synthetic marijuana. The authors of that study contended that their findings revealed a specific time-frame when cannabinoid treatment following a traumatic event was most effective.

While further studies are warranted, many researchers face extreme scrutiny as they seek authorization to test the efficacy of cannabinoids in treating diseases.

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Michele Rosenthal
Michele Rosenthal
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Date of original publication:

Updated: July 12, 2016