Pot of war

Government approves study to give medical cannabis to veterans with PTSD

Can medical cannabis help veterans with PTSD?

Can medical cannabis help veterans with PTSD?


Largely banned since 1940, the field of medical-cannabis research in the United States is celebrating a symbolic sign of acceptance this month: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a study that gives pot to veterans suffering chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last month, Dr. Rick Doblin, executive director of the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, said the FDA approved his group’s protocol for research on the effects of marijuana on persistent post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. According to the study plan, pot may relieve persistent PTSD symptoms by interacting with the brain’s endocannabinoid system.

Post-traumatic stress is a severe anxiety disorder that may appear after psychologically traumatic events. Military veterans suffering from PTSD will often report flashbacks, nightmares, anger, hypervigilance and avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma. Symptoms last longer than a month and lead to “clinically significant distress and impairment.”

Battle-damaged war veterans often self-medicate with pot to treat symptoms like insomnia, anxiety and depression, clinicians have found. The new study seeks to quantify the efficacy of those practices.

Cannabis “helps people not have nightmares,” Doblin explained. “They sleep better. That’s one of the main reasons why people use it.

“Another reason is it focuses people’s attention on the here and now. It moves them a little ways out of being burdened by the past.”

The FDA approval represents a historic landmark in cannabis research, Doblin said. It’s the first FDA-approved study in at least 30 years that would give cannabis to patients for home use. As a sign of the FDA’s hesitance, Doblin’s group had to assure the FDA that the veterans in the study would not go out and sell their weed on the street corner.

He also was surprised that the FDA approved the study and did not think the National Institute on Drug Abuse had the appropriate cannabidiol-rich pot, which would force the FDA to reject it. NIDA controls the one federally legal pot farm in the nation, which is based in Mississippi and provides government-grown pot to a handful of federal patients, as well as researchers approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Yet sill, if history is any guide, NIDA will ultimately block the FDA-approved study from ever happening, said Doblin. NIDA must approve all research on pot, and its political goal is to ensure it never becomes legal, he said. NIDA states on its website that it believes smoked marijuana is not a medicine, despite more than 3,000 years of recorded medicinal use.

Doblin said NIDA has repeatedly denied approval of his group’s efforts to clinically study the use of cannabis to treat AIDS wasting and migraines—despite repeated FDA approvals. He said the FDA is interested in pursuing cannabis science, but NIDA is not.

“I would like there to be praise for the FDA; they’re not doing anything unusual,” he said. “But NIDA, the drug czar’s office and the DEA have bought into prohibition, and prohibition doesn’t make sense if you put science first.

“The Obama administration has talked a big game about how science should not be impeded by politics,” Doblin continued. “He has disappointed us in major ways when it comes to drug-related science.”

But if NIDA rejects the newly approved study, it will be yet another example of the government getting in the way of helping our troops, Doblin said.

“There are a large number of people for whom this would work.”