The Link Between PTSD and Pot: Should the VA Grant Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana?

ptsdmarijuanaActive duty soldiers and veterans returning home who have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are often prescribed a pharmacy’s worth of drugs in order to alleviate their symptoms, including antidepressants such as Zoloft and Paxil, anti-anxiety medication, and any number of opioids, which are known to be highly addictive and habit-forming.

Physicians working with these soldiers and veterans in Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics are encouraged to prescribe these medications in addition to recommending counseling or therapy. Alternative or holistic treatments that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are generally verboten.

However, some doctors are willing to explore alternative treatments. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist who has worked with veterans for over two decades, is interested in how marijuana can help in the treatment of PTSD. Though Sisley has never smoked or ingested marijuana herself, many of her patients use it in order to better manage their symptoms. “Nobody is claiming it’s a cure, but they report they have been successfully managing their symptoms,” she said.

Sisley was ready to begin researching the benefits of medical marijuana in the treatment of PTSD at the University of Arizona until she was fired in July. She suspect this is due to political reasons.

However, when one door closes, another door opens. Sisley has been nominated for a $2 million grant by Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council to fund her triple-blind research study into how marijuana can be used in the treatment of PTSD. The grant is pending approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s health board on December 17th. If the grant is approved, Sisley hopes to treat half of 76 veteran participants in Arizona, as well as coordinating with doctors at Baltimore’s John Hopkins for the other half of the study’s participants. “Johns Hopkins has a long history of doing high quality marijuana research,” Sisley said.

Ricardo Pereyda is a 32-year-old veteran advocate who has been spearheading the fight for marijuana access for veterans suffering from PTSD. He served in the Army until 2009, when he was discharged and has since been diagnosed with PTSD. Pereyda claims that marijuana is the only thing that helps him manage his symptoms.

Pereyda lives in Arizona, a state which will soon join nine others that allow those suffering from PTSD access to medical marijuana. However, the VA is unable to prescribe medical marijuana due to federal law. In fact, according to Pereyda, the VA can stop prescribing pharmaceutical medications altogether if they detect THC (the chemical compound in marijuana that gives users a high) in the patient’s blood.

However, veterans like Pereyda hope that in time, the government will recognize the benefits of marijuana in the treatment of the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD.

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