Federal Government Signs Off On Study Using Marijuana To Treat Veterans’ PTSD

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration handed backers of medical marijuana a significant victory Friday, opening the way for a University of Arizona researcher to examine whether pot can help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress, a move that could lead to broader studies into potential benefits of the drug.

For years, scientists who have wanted to study how marijuana might be used to treat illness say they have been stymied by resistance from federal drug officials.

The Arizona study had long ago been sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration, but under federal rules, such experiments can use marijuana only from a single, government-run farm in Mississippi. Researchers say the agency that oversees the farm, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has long been hostile to proposals aimed at examining possible benefits of the drug.

“This is a great day,” said the Arizona researcher, Suzanne A. Sisley, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the university’s medical school, who has been trying to get the green light for her study for three years. “The merits of a rigorous scientific trial have finally trumped politics.

“We never relented,” Sisley said. “But most other scientists have chosen not to even apply. The process is so onerous. With the implementation of this study and the data generated, this could lead to other crucial research projects.”

Backers of medical marijuana hailed the news as an indication that the government had started coming to terms with one of the more striking paradoxes of federal drug policy: Even as about 1 million Americans are using marijuana legally to treat ailments, scientists have had difficulty getting approval to study how the drug might be employed more effectively.

“The political dynamics are shifting,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, a group based in Santa Cruz that is raising money to help fund studies such as Sisley’s. The group counts several prominent philanthropists among its backers, including two Pritzkers and a Rockefeller.

Government officials said the approval did not represent a change in underlying policy — just a recognition that Sisley’s proposal meets official standards for research using illegal drugs. The research still requires approval of one more agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, but Sisley and Doblin expressed confidence that that would prove a lesser hurdle.

In its letter approving the application, a government review panel noted what it called “significant changes” in the study that justified approving it now. Doblin said the changes did not affect the “core design” of the study.

Federal restrictions on pot research have been a source of tension for years. Researchers, marijuana advocates and some members of Congress have accused the National Institute on Drug Abuse of hoarding the nation’s only sanctioned research pot for studies aimed at highlighting the drug’s ill effects. They had pointed to Sisley’s experience as a prime example of what they called an irrational and disjointed federal policy.

“You have impossible burdens,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has enlisted other members of Congress to lobby the administration to give researchers more access to the drug.

“These are not people who are going to be involved with some clandestine production of the drug or do something nefarious. They are trying to do scientific research that will add to the body of knowledge and safety,” he said.

Blumenauer likes to recount the story of a doctor who works with children who have violent epileptic seizures. The children’s parents “have found that the use of marijuana has reduced the frequency and intensity of these horrific episodes. But because of our stupid research policies, it is easier for the parent to get medical marijuana than for a researcher,” he said.

Scientists say more research could help determine more precisely which ailments the drug can treat and could eventually lead to regulation by the FDA as a prescription drug. That would allow patients to know what they are consuming. Currently, users of medical marijuana often have little information about the potency and purity of the pot they buy. Physicians who prescribe the drug do so on the basis of evidence that is largely anecdotal.

At the core of the debate is an issue that has implications for both research and the movement to legalize marijuana for recreational use, as Colorado and Washington have done. Currently, federal law classifies pot as more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine. As a “Schedule 1” drug, marijuana is designated as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” as well as being a drug that puts users at risk of “severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Researchers say that classification needs to change for science to proceed uninhibited. Making the change, though, would be a retreat in the war on drugs. The Obama administration could reschedule the drug without congressional action, but has shown no inclination to wade into that fight.

In the last 10 years, the government had approved just one U.S. research center to conduct clinical trials involving marijuana use for medical purposes — a UC San Diego facility created by the California Legislature.

The scientist who runs that center, Igor Grant, said his success in getting Washington’s sign-off was due in large part to something other scientists do not have: the full force of the state. Blocking his work would have been a direct affront to lawmakers in Sacramento, he noted.

Grant’s studies looked at such questions as whether pot could help ease the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment or the severe appetite suppression experienced by those with HIV, which causes AIDS.

“Every one of those studies showed, in the short term, a beneficial effect,” Grant said. “There is very good evidence cannabis is helpful.”

evan.halper@latimes.com

7 thoughts on “Federal Government Signs Off On Study Using Marijuana To Treat Veterans’ PTSD

  1. from a veteran….
    it’s about dang time…my brothers and sisters have needed this God given medicine for a long time…I’m happy to see that the greedy federal government is finally deciding to give it back to the American people THEY WORK FOR!!!!!
    for the longest time they wanted us to be sickly and dieing with cancer riddled bodies….and now more and more wake up to that

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  2. Health Canada changes come into effect in two weeks
    By By Dan Zakreski, CBC News Posted: Mar 18, 2014 7:12 AM CT Last Updated: Mar 18, 2014 8:06 AM CT

    Photo: Soon-to-be-former grower Jeff Lundstrom.

    Grower says feds forcing pot back underground
    Medical marijuana growers in Saskatoon have two weeks to get rid of their pot stockpiles and decommission their growing equipment.

    On April 1, Health Canada’s new rules come into force concerning how medical marijuana is grown and distributed. And that means that most of the people growing pot now will lose their licenses.

    Jerome Engele is an inspector with the Saskatoon police.
    He says officers will not specifically target the soon-to-be former growers. Police will give them a chance to do the right thing.

    “I don’t perceive us going our to find out who had a medical license. It’ll all take care of itself down the road,” he said in an interview.

    “Come March 31 everyone will quit producing, they will get rid of all the product that they do have, and or turn in the product and their equipment to the Saskatoon Police Service and we’ll take care of destroying it for them.”

    But Engele made it clear that anyone caught growing after April 1 will be arrested and charged.

    Cat litter and water

    Last week, Health Canada posted a notice on its website laying out the new protocols.

    As of April 1, “personal production and production by designated persons of marijuana is illegal.”

    “The only way to access marijuana is from a licensed producer when authorized by a healthcare practitioner.”

    It also offers producers tips on how to dispose of their current supply.

    “The recommended method is to break up the plant material, blend the marijuana with water and mix it with cat litter to mask the odour. This can then be placed in your regular household garbage.”

    As of December, 2012 there were 688 people in Saskatchewan authorized to possess medical marijuana; 276 licensed to grow their own pot; and 56 people licensed to grow for people.

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  3. Canadian doctors balk at increased role in medical marijuana prescriptions
    KELLY GRANT – HEALTH REPORTER
    The Globe and Mail
    Published Monday, Mar. 24 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
    Last updated Monday, Mar. 24 2014, 6:11 AM EDT

    [More information here:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/doctors-balk-at-increased-role-in-medical-marijuana-prescriptions/article17632264/%5D
    Medical marijuana support varies by province
    New medical marijuana laws won’t change low-priority status in eyes of B.C. police
    Video: Inside a medical marijuana grow-op approved by Health Canada
    VIDEO
    Video: Medical marijuana grower says new program punishes patients

    Doctors across the country will be pushed next week into the role of medical-marijuana gatekeepers, becoming the final decision makers on who gets legal pot.

    It’s a role that most physicians do not want to play, and a change that could make it potentially more difficult for patients already struggling to find doctors willing to endorse their use of marijuana.

    Federal Court grants injunction to allow patients to grow medical pot
    Ottawa to inform police if medical marijuana growers flout new rules

    Medical marijuana patients smoke marijuana outside the Federal Court in downtown Vancouver, March 18, 2014. John Conroy, a lawyer for a group of medical marijuana patients, has told a Federal Court judge that stopping his clients from growing their own marijuana on April 1 would violate their charter rights.

    The Peace Naturals Project is one of the first companies approved by Health Canada to commercially produce and distribute dried cannabis. Owner Mark Gobuty says the Ontario company’s aim is to help people.

    Afflicted with multiple sclerosis, Sandy Daviau has been growing medical marijuana legally for two years. But a new federal program will eliminate personal-grow licences and outlaw Daviau’s practice.

    Physicians say their chief concern is the lack of clinical trials demonstrating the need for and safety of medical marijuana; in addition, there is the lesser worry of providing pot to recreational users masquerading as patients. Canadian doctors were already wary of supporting applications for medical marijuana. Only 7 per cent of all physicians and 14 per cent of family doctors support active authorizations to possess medicinal cannabis, according to Health Canada figures crunched for The Globe and Mail.

    Under the new system, the buck stops with doctors. Health Canada currently issues “authorizations” for people to possess medical marijuana after receiving a form signed by a doctor that confirms the patient has one of a list of symptoms or conditions that might be helped by smoking pot.

    Now, doctors will be asked to fill out a form no more formal than a school permission slip, which patients send directly to a licensed private pot grow-op.

    “I recognize that it seems subtle, but it’s actually quite a profound change because it’s essentially asking us to write a prescription,” said Chris Simpson, the president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, which represents the country’s nearly 75,000 doctors.

    The enhanced responsibilities assigned to physicians in the new system have largely been overshadowed by Ottawa’s decision to limit legal marijuana sales to large, licensed grow-ops, a plan that was dealt a blow Friday by a Federal Court ruling that will allow approved medical marijuana growers to continue cultivating their own plants until a constitutional challenge is heard.

    But that injunction has no bearing on Health Canada’s intention to stop handing out the so-called authorizations.

    The CMA, along with the umbrella organization that speaks for physicians’ self-regulating colleges in the provinces and territories, fought the changes, arguing doctors should not be asked to prescribe a substance that has not been subjected to the same rigorous clinical trials and approvals as pharmaceuticals.

    Having lost that battle, the colleges have been busy passing new standards and guidelines to help their members navigate the new marijuana landscape.

    “[Health Canada] is washing their hands of it. Now, the only oversight of the prescriptions are the colleges,” said Heidi Oetter, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. “We’re not happy.”

    The medical profession’s reluctance to prescribe pot has opened the way for the expansion of a Vancouver company that connects patients seeking medical marijuana with doctors willing to support them.

    The Medicinal Cannabis Resource Centre, Inc., which already sees out-of-town patients via Skype for a $400 fee, is planning to open offices in Toronto, Halifax and Edmonton this spring.

    It is also in the midst of setting up a slate of affiliate doctors willing to occasionally prescribe pot from their own offices.

    “I think the new regulations are making it more difficult for physicians because they give them no guidelines, which the old ones did,” Arnold Shoichet, the company’s medical director, said. “I see people referred to me because [their] doctor says, ‘I don’t know where to start. Go find somebody who does.’”

    Most of the provincial and territorial colleges of physicians and surgeons warn of the potential hazards of prescribing marijuana, including the paucity of guidance on dosing, lack of quality standards on strains that can differ dramatically depending on the grower and concerns about how pot might interact with other medications. But they leave it to individual doctors to decide whether to prescribe pot.

    One quirk of the new rules erases the requirement for a specialist physician to sign off in some instances, meaning some patients will have one fewer hoop to jump through if they can find a willing doctor. That change could make medicinal marijuana easier to get.

    A total of 5,363 physicians across the country were supporting active authorizations under the old system as of March 17, according to Health Canada. Of those, 2,228 practice in Ontario, 1,453 in B.C., 407 in Alberta, 347 in Nova Scotia, 330 in Quebec and the rest scattered across the remaining provinces and territories.

    However, the number of doctors could be higher because, as of last fall, doctors could chose to use either the new or old approach as the program was phased in.

    Terry Roycroft, chief executive officer of MCRCI, said he founded his company to fill the void left by a medical profession that largely refused to help sick people get the cannabis they need.

    “Our clinic … was developed out of necessity,” Mr. Roycroft said. “If the college [of physicians and surgeons] was more supportive and they were willing to work on an educational program with those doctors [who won’t prescribe pot] that would be great.”

    Mr. Roycroft said the company has helped about 2,500 patients secure permits to possess marijuana since 2011.

    About 60 per cent of those patients come in-person to the Vancouver clinic, which costs $300. The rest see a doctor via Skype for $400, a price Mr. Roycroft is aiming to lower. Potential patients have to provide medical records from their primary care doctors before a long appointment with Dr. Shoichet or another doctor, he said.

    “It’s not the majority of people who use cannabis for medical purposes,” Dr. Shoichet said. “But the ones that do gain so significantly that their care should be a priority.”

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  4. Colorado lawyers get the green light on pot business clients
    BY LINDSEhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/03/25/colorado-lawyers-get-the-go-ahead-to-advise-marijuana-businesses/?wpisrc=nl_headlinesY BEVER

    March 25 at 6:06 am
    Lawyers in Colorado can rest easier today, as can pot peddlers who need their services.
    Once caught in legal limbo, the lawyers got permission Monday to advise marijuana businesses without fear of running afoul of the state’s ethics rules.
    Although recreational weed has been legal in the state since January, sellers are still technically violating federal law, which has created complications.
    But the new rule, issued by the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday, gives lawyers assurance that they won’t be penalized for giving legal advice to cannabis clients.
    A lawyer “may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them,” the new rule states, according to The Denver Post.
    Lawyers in Colorado “may counsel clients regarding the validity, scope and meaning” of the state’s marijuana laws and their implementation, according to the rule change signed by Chief Justice Nancy Rice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
    “This gives attorneys unambiguous direction on what they can and cannot do,” James Coyle, head of the state’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, told Reuters.
    Colorado is the first state to give attorneys guidance on marijuana-related law, Reuters reported. Connecticut, Nevada, Rhode Island and Washington state have similar regulation changes that could be adopted in those states, he added.
    The Colorado Bar Association also asked the state’s high court to rule on the question of whether an attorney could face professional sanctions if they personally use marijuana, but the justices declined to address that issue, Coyle said.
    Colorado attorneys, however, are still required to advise their clients about federal marijuana laws and policies.
    Banks are still not dealing with the marijuana trade in Colorado, however, which as a result remains cash-only.
    A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to allow banks to do business with pot retailers is going nowhere, reports the Post.
    The measure was introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., and Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash.
    “The almost universal response is the rolling of one’s eyes,” Heck said of his attempts to discuss the bill.

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    • I think its about time we accept the fact that pot is benifical for a lot of things. I suffer from ptsd related to sexual abuse as a child. I also have athiris throughout my body. I have bad reaction to pain meds too.
      I have been using it for over forty years. Not sure how i would of gotten through some tough roads in life.

      Like

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