Patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can now apply for medical marijuana in Colorado, after Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB17 into law on June 5. This means that our state has finally caught up with 22 other states and U.S. territories that allow medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD.
The law, sponsored by Senator Irene Aguilar and Representative Jonathan Singer, will add PTSD to Colorado's list of conditions approved for treatment with medical marijuana. Patients can apply for doctor recommendations as soon as the appropriate forms are ready, perhaps as early as next week, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
PTSD sufferers, veterans and medical marijuana advocates had lobbied the state to include the affliction since 2006.
The Colorado Board of Health rejected a petition in 2015 that would have added PTSD to the list of qualified conditions despite a recommendation from the state's Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Counsel and Colorado Chief Medical Officer Larry Wolk. At the time, boardmembers cited a lack of peer-reviewed studies and clinical trials, saying that anecdotal evidence and testimonies were powerful but required further justification.
Federal restrictions stop most peer-reviewed studies before they start because of marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 drug. Until Sue Sisley's study on marijuana effects on PTSD is finished — which could take years and is off to a rocky start, according to Sisley — public health departments don't have any PTSD study that meets the board's requirements.
Matthew Kahl, Curtis Bean, Larisa Bolivar, Stephen Otero and Zachary Phillips sued the state after the board rejected PTSD as a condition. While the lawsuit was in motion, Aguilar and Singer proposed SB17. Once it passed the Colorado Senate in May, the group dropped its lawsuit.
Singer, who'd introduced a similar bill in 2014 that died in committee before making it to the floor, says it was a "lesson in perseverance" to see it through this time around. "If you have PTSD, a serious mental illness, you should be able to work with a doctor before you go to a dispensary," he adds. "No one should self-medicate before going to a doctor."
In testimony before the Colorado Legislature, members of the mental-health community said they were concerned about the effects of using marijuana to treat a psychiatric condition without more scientific evidence. Another point of contention was allowing children to receive marijuana recommendations for PTSD. Before the measure passed, it was amended to add safeguards for patients under eighteen, requiring two separate doctor recommendations and approval from the Board of Health. A child must also be diagnosed by at least one mental-health professional, and one of the recommending doctors must have an ongoing relationship with the child.
"The powers-that-be did everything they could to trounce our narrative into the ground," says Kahl, an Army veteran suffering from PTSD. "They tried saying there was no scientific evidence, but we're actually prevented from doing research on it."
Representative Jonathan Singer has a background in social services and is Chair of the House Public Health Care & Human Services committee.
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Bolivar, the director and founder of the Cannabis Consumer Coalition and a PTSD patient, had filed a petition with Denver attorney Robert Corry to include PTSD in Colorado's treatable marijuana conditions back in 2006. "It's always been mired in politics. It's always been an uphill battle," she says. "But this is relieving. I know this is going to save a lot of lives and have open relationships with medical practitioners. Patients can talk about using cannabis for PTSD with them."
Bolivar was also excited about the research opportunities. "Now we can have documentation about what used to be assumed was anecdotal," she adds.
"I hope it opens a door so that physicians recommending marijuana are no longer considered pseudo-scientific or quacks for recommending marijuana," Singer says. "We aren't really a trailblazer in this — a number of other states already allow it — but when the next issue comes along, maybe we have a template now."