Was Big Pharma Behind Colorado's Rejection of Medical Marijuana for PTSD?

Washington's voters legalized recreational marijuana the same day that Colorado's did, but so far that state has been far behind Colorado in creating the infrastructure for the new industry.

Far behind in most ways, that is: Last week the Colorado Board of Health again rejected adding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed, but Washington will be approving PTSD on July 24.

In making its decision, the Colorado board cited a lack of sufficient scientific evidence proving the plant's effective treatment of PTSD — but Sue Sisley begs to differ. She's the Arizona physician who's been researching the effect of marijuana on veterans suffering from PTSD, and had been awarded a $2 million grant from Colorado for a study that's gained the approval of the FDA — but that study continues to be on hold, since the fed-approved facility has not been able to produce the requested strains of cannabis.

Sisley was in D.C. last month to testify about the obstacles to research, and she'll be in Washington state tomorrow talking about the work she's been able to do with veterans groups, which shows that cannabis definitely helps those suffering from PTSD. And then she'll be back in D.C. again on Thursday talking at a Congressional briefing that Americans for Safe Access are hosting with Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer on obstacles to further research.

Sisley was also at the Colorado board's hearing last week. "Overall, it was a heartbreaking day for these veterans/PTSD sufferers who came to testify," Sisley says. "Even more painful because they entered the facility feeling highly optimistic...given that the majority of the revered Colorado Scientific Advisory Council had recommended adding PTSD. " Even Colorado health department director Larry Wolk had suddenly changed his mind, she points out, agreeing to endorse the proposal.

"Unfortunately, since we were only given two minutes each, I was barely able to highlight the George Greer PTSD study from New Mexico before the time elapsed," she continues. "Yes, this was an observational study, but it was published in a respected, peer-reviewed medical journal. The study showed 75 percent reduction in caps scores — the gold standard for measuring severity of PTSD — in eighty veterans who obtained their New Mexico medical marijuana card with diagnosis of PTSD."

And even though Sisley has been in a non-stop tussle with authorities in Arizona, she notes that this study was compelling enough to persuade the Arizona health department director to add PTSD to its list of ailments for which marijuana an be prescribed. Since January 1, several hundred cardholders with PTSD have qualified for MMJ in that state.

Sisley has her suspicions about what happened behind the scenes at the Colorado hearing, where of the fifty-plus speakers, only two testified in opposition to the proposal. "Several members who voted 'no' cited the fact that APA and other organized medicine groups oppose this initiative," she says. "I am concerned that these organized medicine groups are heavily influenced by big Pharma..... Obviously, Pharma has a vested interest in suppressing these initiatives because they have the potential to harm their 'business model.'"

Representative Jonathan Singer
has offered to run another bill through the Colorado Legislature that would add PTSD to the list of MMJ-approved complaints, "but I think the best approach is probably to go through the court system, as we did successfully in Arizona," Sisley says, noting that several Colorado attorneys agree:  "So look for a court case this fall."
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun