Just two years ago during the Obama administration, the Food and Drug Administration approved a clinical trial that would try to determine whether or not cannabis could help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans. Part of a softening in the federal handling of cannabis research, the current administration’s hard stance against the plant may be endangering the trial.
Though the researchers began to recruit volunteers for the study in April, initial optimism has given way to concerns that the research will be remain stalled due to inaction on the part of the federal government.
The trial had previously been considered a triumph resulting after seven years of effort on the part of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): a research and educational non-profit.
The Arizona-based research team’s problem is simple but potentially catastrophic: they can’t find enough volunteers to undergo the trial. Despite utilizing the assistance of every veterans organization in the state and screening over 4,000 vets, the strict criteria of the trial means that researchers found only 22 of the 76 veterans needed. How is the federal government to blame? According to the researchers, they could be assisting in the process through Veterans Affairs and their hospitals, but none of the agencies they’ve contacted have responded to requests. The feds’ reasoning? Cannabis is federally illegal and until it isn’t, they refuse to promote research on the topic and insist it’s illegal for them to do so.
“It’s so frustrating,” said Sue Sisley, the principal study investigator. “They say they want more data on ways to help veterans. If they want more data, this is it.”
Though the VA’s press secretary suggested that the federal regulations restrict their ability to recommend the drug, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, David Shulkin, has sung a slightly different tune in the past. “Federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at [marijuana] as an option for veterans. I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts,” he said. “So if there is compelling evidence that this is helpful, I hope that people take a look at that and come up with the right decision, and then we will implement that.” Sisley insists that they’re trying to provide that evidence, and could use the assistance of the VA to do so.
If the team is unable to find suitable participants by October 1st, they may have to dilute the program with non-veterans–or shut the trial down all-together, wasting years of work.