22 Vets Commit Suicide Daily, is Medical Marijuana the Solution?
Dr. Sue Sisley, a former Department of Veterans Affairs physician, has devoted her life to coming with an effective treatment for PTSD. But her promising work is controversial and not without detractors.
As one of the nation’s foremost scientific experts on medical marijuana, Dr. Sisley is heading groundbreaking research on the potential use of cannabis in treating PTSD and other maladies suffered by millions of Vets and civilian Americans.
For the study, funded by a $2-M grant from the Colorado Health Department, she has partnered with Tier 1 medical institutions: Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Colorado-Denver.
In announcing the federal government’s approval of her research project, Dr. Sisley drew a sustained standing ovation during a recent Fort Lauderdale medical marijuana conference.
“If there is even a chance that cannabis could help reduce the suffering of our veterans community then we have a duty to these vets to find ways to change public policy, to bring the science forward, and let the data speak for itself,” she says.
Dr. Sisley first became interested in cannabis as an alternative-medicine therapy for PTSD as VA physician and psychiatrist. Many of her patients told her marijuana was helping them in ways that approved medications were not.
At 1st Dr. Sisley was skeptical, in part because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana’s use for PTSD. But, over time, the anecdotal evidence piled up, with 100’s of Vets telling her that cannabis was helping to control their symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
At the same time, she noticed FDA-approved treatments for PTSD, antidepressants and painkillers, were not working for many of her patients.
“One of the things that became clear to me was that I was losing a lot of Veterans to suicide in my practice,” she says. “They were not responding to conventional medicine.”
The turning point came in early Y 2013, when the VA released a landmark study estimating that 22 Vets commit suicide daily.
As a professor at the University of Arizona, she was moved by the VA study to secure federal approval for a clinical trial to gauge the benefits of cannabis.
In March 2014, the US Health and Human Services Department “Geen-lighted” the study, but the University terminated her position shortly thereafter for political reasons.
University officials have declined to discuss Dr. Sisley’s dismissal.
Her termination drew wide national media attention and sparked a backlash from Veterans groups and medical scientists who argued that her dismissal spotlighted barriers that have long blocked marijuana research.
Soon after, Dr. Sisley pulled in a handful of prestigious collaborators for her study, including the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
And in April of this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) gave its blessing to the project her the 1st researcher to win federal approval to study smoked marijuana a potential FDA-approved prescription medicine for PTSD.
Dr. Sisley notes federal drug laws place cannabis into the same category as harder drugs such as heroin and LSD.
Meanwhile, drugs approved to treat PTSD are classed as having “low addiction potential” including opioid painkillers linked to a huge spikes in overdose deaths and suicides among Vets and other Americans in recent years.
Many studies have suggested compounds in marijuana may have significant clinical properties, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Scientific research suggests cannabis holds promise in treating more than 40 health conditions, including cancer, arthritis, pain, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDs, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, Dr. Sisley has been cheered by the growing acceptance of cannabis as a legitimate alternative-medicine therapy. Her research offers the prospect of addressing not only Veterans’ mental-health and addiction issues, but also those facing millions of civilian Americans.
“This is exciting because, finally, we have government money going to look at the efficacy of cannabis all different illnesses including the potential for cannabis to be used for pain management,” she said in a recent interview.
“So we are going to be answering all of these questions through these clinical trials and you’ll have this data, you’ll see this emerge, and get published over the next 3 years.”