In a Historic Move, DEA Grants Full Approval for First-Ever Clinical Marijuana Trial for PTSD

May 17, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Marijuana plant
Photo credit: Lenny Montana/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

For war veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

Veterans suffering with chronic PTSD can often feel like their options are burnt out if they don’t respond to the FDA-approved medications or traditional exposure and behavioral therapy approaches.

Take former US soldier Jonathan Lubecky, for instance — his debilitating PTSD drove him to multiple suicide attempts after he didn’t respond to traditional PTSD treatments. Luckily, he came across the opportunity to take place in a clinical trial by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which transformed his life through MDMA-assisted therapy.

Now, another option for veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD may be on its way — the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has approved the first-ever clinical trial to measure marijuana’s ability to treat the symptoms of PTSD.

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The randomized controlled trial will be led by MAPS, a non-profit research organization helping to revive the field of psychedelic research. Researchers will be investigating the effects of smoking marijuana on 76 war veterans with chronic PTSD.

The study will test four separate strains of marijuana in order to compare composition, dosing, side effects, and the benefits between plants with varying levels of the two major psychoactive components of cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Along with the DEA’s approval, the study was granted permission by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Public Health Service (PHS), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — every relevant federal agency.

MAPS says the study is expected to start this year, once the organization receives the medical marijuana from NIDA.

“We are thrilled to see this study overcome the hurdles of approval so we can begin gathering the data,” Amy Emerson, Director of Clinical Research for the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation, said in a press statement. “This study is a critical step in moving our botanical drug development program forward at the federal level to gather information on the dosing, risks, and benefits of smoked marijuana for PTSD symptoms.”

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The US Department of Veterans Affairs currently prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana to veterans with PTSD, even in states where the drug is legal for medicinal use, stating on its website that “controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD.”

Unfortunately, this has caused some veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD to seek out marijuana through illegal means, especially if it’s the only way they find relief from their condition.

"I went from being an anxious mess to numbing myself with the pills they were giving me," Mike Whiter, a former Marine who lives in Philadelphia, where marijuana is illegal, told CBS News. "Cannabis helped me get out of the hole I was in. I started to talk to people and get over my social anxiety."

Fingers crossed the MAPS marijuana trial will pave the way to a new treatment option for the PTSD-ridden war veterans who have been left in the dark by the current options.

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