Sue Sisley Named Researcher of the Year by National Medical Marijuana Group

Sue Sisley still hopes to find a home for her study in Arizona.
Sue Sisley still hopes to find a home for her study in Arizona.
Phoenix New Times

Sue Sisley is still having trouble getting her ground-breaking work on the effects of cannabis on veterans with PTSD recognized in Arizona, where she is based — and lost three state contracts last summer. But she's found much more success in other states, including Colorado,  which approved her grant application for $2 million to further her research late last year.

And today, Sisley will be honored by Americans for Safe Access as Researcher of the Year at the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, D.C. Many of the veterans who have battled alongside the doctor to further her marijuana/PTSD research will be on stage with Sisley to accept the honor this evening.

Sisley presented a program at the conference yesterday, describing many of the obstacles she also detailed when she was in Denver last fall. A physican who specializes in internal medicine and psychiatry, Sisley is the principal investigator for the only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial looking at use of whole-plant marijuana in combat veterans with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder; that study was based at the University of Arizona, where in 2001, Sisley won the UA’s Leo B. Hart Humanitarian Award for “outstanding contributions made for social reform” by the University of Arizona College of Medicine. She was a faculty member in excellent standing at the school for nearly seven years. But last June, she had all three of her university contracts stripped. Sisley and her many supporters believe the move was political, a response to her ceaseless efforts to push for the full implementation of the study. Today she cites this “firing” as one of her proudest professional achievements....prioritizing her patients’ needs and advocating for science over political pressure.

Media across the country covered UA's move, which put her on a "pretty barbaric rollercoaster," Sisley told us last fall. "One injustice after another, and I suspect it will not slow down for quite a while." But she definitely caught a break in Colorado, where she presented her grant proposal to Colorado's Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council in December.  By then, Johns Hopkins had already stepped up with a formal partnership for the study; Sisley plans to divide the  protocol between Baltimore and a still undetermined place in Arizona, where so many of the vets she works with are based. "The dire need for this PTSD research is so obvious with our epidemic of veteran suicide," she says. "The relentless delays from our Arizona universities and other government agencies are unconscionable."

Colorado received 57 applications for funding; the council considered eight finalists, whose requests totaled $7.6 million. All of them were granted — including Sisley's. "The Colorado health department believed in the quality of this research regardless of whether I was aligned with a university in Arizona or not," Sisley says. "It's a true vindication of its scientific merits, and further highlights how shameful it is that no Arizona university is willing to embrace this crucial research."

A shame that should be further highlighted by tonight's ASA Award to Sisley.


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