UA researcher and professor pushes marijuana study to benefit veterans with PTSD
The UA recently declared its support of amending a state statute to clarify that marijuana research, receiving the proper federal authorization, may be conducted at the university.
The support, given in a UA statement, comes as a result of delays in a UA study intended to determine if marijuana will benefit veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. Currently, Arizona state law states that marijuana research may not be performed on state campuses.
The study, run by Sue Sisley, a UA researcher and professor at the UA college of medicine’s downtown Phoenix campus, is still waiting for the approval of two organizations. The UA Institutional Review Board and the Food and Drug Administration have approved the study; however the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration have not.
In the study, 50 veterans would be placed into five groups and given various dosages to take, explained Sisley, who will conduct the study, if approved. Once in those five groups, the subjects would be sorted again into either a smoking group or vaporization group to determine the method of administration.. An alcohol-based plant without the THC would be used for a placebo as well.
The study would run for more than eight weeks with a year-long follow-up with the subjects.
The biggest obstacle of the study is the at-home self-administration, Sisley said, as NIDA feels it is unsafe to allow subjects to smoke at home. She said that NIDA would prefer to have subjects placed in an in-patient hospital.
“Most of these people want to be functional. They don’t want to be high,” Sisley said. “That’s what is so frustrating. We want to create a real-world study; it’s not real-world to live in a hospital for 10 weeks. That’s absurd.”
The study is the first of its kind to be administered, according to Sisley.
“It’s really crucial that we collect high quality data rather than anecdotal experience,” Sisley said. “That’s what we have now; we have literally thousands of vets that are telling us that cannabis is the only thing that helps control their PTSD symptoms.”
Currently only Zoloft and Paxil are available to treat symptoms. Sisley suggested that the notion of using cannabis to control symptoms could provide relief and renewed hope for people who have never had any.
Ricardo Pereyda, a public management and policy senior, is a student veteran who served in the United States Army Military Police Corps from 2003-2009 and was mainly deployed in Baghdad. PTSD is a prominent problem among veterans, according to Pereyda, who said he has first-hand experience.
According to Pereyda, he was 23 when he came back from deployment and was on 12 different medications at one point.
“I think that rather than trying to just throw pills at veterans, where all the side-effects may not be known, or just try to make them numb is not the right course of action,” Pereyda said. “If using marijuana responsibly will help alleviate some of those symptoms so that individuals can enter a classroom, or go to a supermarket, and not get a panic attack as soon as they open the door, [it] is a good thing.”
Sisley said NIDA believes that subjects will take the marijuana home and sell it on the street but that Sisley her team has created preventative measures to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Sisley began outlining the study design and working with the FDA in early 2010 and approval occurred in early 2011. The FDA has a 30-day required timetable to approve or deny a study, but according to Sisley, NIDA doesn’t have such a restriction. She explained that she has been waiting on a decision regarding a separate study from the organization for seven to eight years.
“They can take 10 months or 10 years and that’s what they’ve proven,” Sisley said. “That’s their tactic: to delay and stonewall and simply say it’s under review. They don’t say that it’s under a permanent review.”
Despite her frustrations, Sisley said she is happy the UA’s Institutional Review Board accepted the study.
“I’m really proud of the U of A for having the courage to defend good science,” Sisley said. “Our IRB at the U of A looked and examined the science; they did their job, which is protecting human subjects. They didn’t allow politics to enter into it.”