This story has been updated with additional information from the VA and the American Medical Association.
The Public Health Service has cleared the way for a research organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, to study whether or not marijuana can reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.
MAPS described the move as an “historic shift in federal policy.”
The Public Health Service approval of the study will allow MAPS to purchase medical marijuana from a farm operated by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the first time in 22 years the organization, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., said it has been allowed to purchase the drug from NIDA.
The research will be conducted by Dr. Sue Sisley at the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona who believes marijuana can relieve a wide range of clinical symptoms. Sisley plans to provide 50 veterans diagnosed with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD with marijuana in various potencies during the study.
The study still needs final approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, something MAPS is optimistic will occur “in a timely manner,” the organization said.
Currently 20 states allow the use of medical marijuana to treat a variety of conditions; Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon, Maine, New Mexico and Nevada permit its use to treat PTSD.
Roughly 2.3 million troops served over the past 13 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Veterans Affairs Department estimated in 2012 that roughly 30 percent have sought care in its facilities for PTSD. A key 2011 study shows the rate of PTSD for combat Vietnam veterans, of which there are 2.6 million, ranges between 2 percent and 17 percent.
The Veterans Health Administration does not preclude veterans who receive VA care from participation in medical marijuana programs. A Jan. 31, 2011, policy memo from Robert Petzel, VA Under Secretary for Health, states: “VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in State marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals.”
The American Medical Association continued its historic opposition to medical marijuana last November when its House of Delegates affirmed a policy position that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.”