Sue Sisley on Her Request for Colorado to Fund Study on Pot and PTSD

Controversial cannabis researcher Sue Sisley is on her way back to Colorado today, after six months that have been a "pretty barbaric rollercoaster," she says. "One injustice after another, and I suspect it will not slow down for quite a while." But at the end of November, the Arizona-based researcher finally caught a break: Colorado's Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council chose eight research-grant proposals for the Board of Health to consider at its December 17 meeting -- including Sisley's proposal to study the effectiveness of using marijuana to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

See also: Sue Sisley Has Become a Real Hot Potato in Arizona, But Her Medical Marijuana Students Would Be a Real Catch for Colorado

Sisley had been researching the affect of marijuana on PTSD at the University of Arizona for several years when UA officials terminated her contract in June for political reasons -- a controversy that's been covered by media outlets ranging from NBC to the New York Times. She'd already been exploring working with the University of Colorado on her study, but Johns Hopkins stepped up with a formal partnership that is now part of her grant proposal. "Such a great feeling to receive this grant approval after slogging through so many years of fighting ridiculous barriers," she says.

Other proposals under consideration in Colorado would look at the potential for marijuana in treating tremors from Parkinson's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, complex pediatric epilepsy, pediatric brain tumors and chronic pain.

"Colorado is leading the way in devoting significant resources to study medical marijuana," said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in announcing the finalists last month. "We hope the studies will contribute to the scientific research available about the use of marijuana in effectively treating various medical conditions."

The Colorado Legislature established the advisory council last year, authorizing $10 million from reserves in the medical marijuana program cash fund for "objective scientific research regarding the efficacy of marijuana and its component parts as part of medical treatment," with $1 million going to administration of the program.

The department received 57 applications; the requests of the eight finalists total $7.6 million. Sisley is asking for $2 million. "Someday soon, this PTSD research will finally be implemented," she says. "The dire need for this PTSD research is so obvious with our epidemic of veteran suicide. The relentless delays from our Arizona universities and other government agencies are unconscionable."

At its meeting tomorrow, the Board of Health has the authority to approve all the grant proposals submitted by the council. If there is unallocated funding, the board may direct the department and the advisory council regarding funding of additional research.

Given the backing of Johns Hopkins, Sisley now plans to divide her protocol between two sites. "Instead of enrolling eighty veterans in Arizona as originally planned, we will be able to expedite the enrollment process by enrolling forty vets at Johns Hopkins and forty veterans in Arizona." Just where, in Arizona, has yet to be determined -- "but I refuse to turn my back on these dedicated Arizona veterans," she says.

And if she gets the Colorado grant, she won't have to. "That's the beauty of this grant," she says. "The Colorado health department believed in the quality of this research regardless of whether I was aligned with a university in Arizona or not.... 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.

"The dire need for this PTSD research is so obvious with our epidemic of veteran suicide," she concludes. "The relentless delays from our Arizona universities and other government agencies are unconscionable."

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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