Colorado Board of Health Rejects PTSD as MMJ Condition

As public distrust with pharmaceutical drugs mounts, Colorado public health officials are feeling the pressure to study medical marijuana.
As public distrust with pharmaceutical drugs mounts, Colorado public health officials are feeling the pressure to study medical marijuana.
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Today the Colorado Board of Health rejected a petition to add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as an acceptable condition for medical marijuana prescriptions, citing lack of sufficient scientific evidence that proves the plant's effective treatment of PTSD.

After listening to over twenty veterans, victims of abuse and family members of those afflicted with the disorder — all of whom favored PTSD being added to the list — the board voted 6 to 2 against adding PTSD to the list of accepted debilitating conditions. Despite a recommendation from the state's Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Counsel, which includes Colorado Chief Medical Officer Larry Wolk, that PTSD be accepted, multiple members of the board said they could not endorse PTSD's addition without more concrete evidence.

"The humanity presented today isn't what we're ignoring. The presentations were very convincing, very intriguing," District Four board member Dr. Tony Cappello told the dozens of people at the meeting to support PTSD's addition. "It's further justification for the research that we need."

District Two board member Janelle Orsborn echoed Cappello's feelings on the need for more evidence. "I don't want Colorado patients to be a public experiment on this," she said.

According to Sue Sisley, who's been studying the effects of marijuana on PTSD and got a $2 million grant from Colorado to continue her research, her current project could take up to three more years — and that's after an eighteen-month wait on the actual marijuana to use in the study, which must be provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Until Sisley's reports are finished, the board has virtually no clinical trials or studies to rely on because of marijuana's illegal federal status and the Federal Drug Administration's hesitancy to research it.

The Colorado Board of Health deliberates after more than two hours of public comments.
The Colorado Board of Health deliberates after more than two hours of public comments.

Those who showed up to support PTSD's inclusion say they don't have three more years to wait. Although Colorado adults 21 and over with PTSD are allowed to self-medicate with recreational cannabis that they acquire through dispensaries or home-grows, they are unable to consult a doctor about the best way to treat themselves with it. 

"The qualified (medical marijuana) conditions allowed by Colorado voters have saved lives," Colorado representative Jonathan Singer told the board. "It's about giving PTSD patients the opportunity to talk to a doctor instead of a dispensary owner."

Military veterans Stephen McBride and Matthew Kale both said they wouldn't have been at the meeting if it weren't for medical marijuana. "I used to not be able to go out in public," McBride told the board. "Events like these would scare the hell out of me if it weren't for medical cannabis."

"Before I started using marijuana, I stopped eating, lost fifteen pounds in a month and even tried committing suicide," Kale said during his testimony.

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The Veterans Administration estimates that up to 20 percent of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars returned home with PTSD. According to a 2014 study published by the Congressional Research Service, since 2000 there have been 164,817 documented military deaths related to diagnosed PTSD. Despite the National Center for PTSD's stance against marijuana treatment because the evidence is overwhelmingly anecdotal, nine states with medical marijuana programs currently consider the disorder treatable with the plant.

Medical research conducted between 2009 and 2011 in New Mexico, the first state to treat PTSD with cannabis, reported a 75 percent decrease in three major PTSD symptoms in patients.The research used the VA-approved CAPS — Clinically Administered PTSD Scale – method, which studies the presences of PTSD experiences and the afflicted person's responses to them. Though the study showed promise, researchers participating in it called for a clinical trial to learn more about different types of PTSD and what kind of cannabis treatment is best for them.

Colorado's list of currently acceptable conditions for medical marijuana includes HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, cachexia, spasms, severe pain, severe nausea and seizures.

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