"I find it hard to believe that anyone who claims to support this country's combat veterans would want to take a stand against anything that may help them—even if that thing is marijuana, perhaps the most stigmatized substance of the last century.
The federal government has provided the fight against veterans' rights to medical marijuana for decades, but the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been successfully working towards breaking down the barriers in order to get the drug into the hands of those it can help most.
And recently, the push for such research has cleared an unprecedented hurdle, as the Obama administration eliminated the most time-consuming portion of the review process.
In order for MAPS to enter the research phase, it first needed to get through two relatively redundant reviews. First, FDA approval had to be obtained, which took just a month and happened back in April of 2011. Then the group struggled for nearly three years to get approval from Public Health Services. Although it took time to push through the review, MAPS spokesperson Brad Burge said the wait was worth it. Burge said this was the first time that PHS had ever approved a protocol from researchers seeking to develop the whole plant into a prescription medicine to purchase marijuana.
The Obama administration recently decided to remove the Public Health Services portion of the review for research projects like MAPS's that use whole plant medical marijuana to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans.
For MAPS, the final challenges will be getting DEA approval and receiving the required amount of pot (nearly 2 kilograms) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one of 27 institutes within the National Institute of Health (NIH). The researchers have been waiting 15 months for the pot.
According to Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who is heading up one of two research sites, the process has taken far longer than expected. She added that if they were able to procure the drug from private growers, they would have already gained DEA approval and begun research with a product closer to what is required for the study.
"I just got back from Denver, where I was surrounded by all these expert growers who could have grown for the study," she said. "But we have to wait for NIDA to grow it."
According to a NIDA email, MAPS has hindered their own progress with issues in their application process, but Sisley insisted that NIDA has been the main cause of delay.
"NIDA is in violation of the controlled substances act," Sisley said. "15 months is not continuous or adequate, and the strain is substandard."
Beyond the other ways in which this is all groundbreaking, MAPS's research is proof that the country is already reaping the benefits of the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana.
The research, being conducted under Dr. Sisley in Arizona and at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, was directly funded by revenue from recreational marijuana sales in the state of Colorado. In fact, the $2.1 million dollar grant is the largest to come from such sales and is the only funding from pot revenue given to non-academic research.
By providing funding for and lifting restrictions on federal support of medical marijuana research for veterans, the Obama administration and the state of Colorado have demonstrated their commitment to destigmatizing the drug as well as helping this country's veterans.
But it is not enough.
NIDA has proven itself to be nothing but a hindrance to the study. The strain the researchers are waiting on was requested to have 12 percent THC and 12 percent CBD, but the one NIDA initially sent was only 9 percent CBD. Dr. Sisley said that despite the fact that the growers she knows in Colorado have confirmed that they could grow the requested strain with relative ease, researchers may just have to use what they were given. MAPS and Sisley were told that they would have to wait another grow cycle to procure more, and that NIDA doesn't know how long another grow cycle will take.
The longer it takes to overcome our apprehensions toward the currently anecdotal evidence supporting medical marijuana for veterans, enabling our country to obtain clinical data from controlled studies, the longer our country's bravest men and women will have to force compressed cocktails down their throats in a last-ditch effort to find a respite.