Study Will Open the Door to Treating PTSD With Medical Marijuana

Images of horror flash through the mind of Matt Stys like a slideshow.

Bloodied bodies of the injured and corpses of dead soldiers, the inability to differentiate between bomb-wielding extremists and civilians.

As an officer running an entry control point in Iraq, Stys has seen it all.

Like Vietnam, the bravery of the armed forces during the war in Iraq is tainted with the question: “Why are we here?” Stys has opted to take only one type of medicine for PTSD- medical marijuana.

Matt Stys told the International Business Times, “I had this misconception that we were over here to help Iraq… but we were just there to destroy a nation.”

For soldiers like Stys, it seemed as though everyone who was in the safety of the United States was oblivious to the violence overseas. Matt Stys has been outspokenly against the War in Iraq for years.

After his return from Iraq, Stys became an alcoholic, falling asleep at the wheel in 2009. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) subsequently diagnosed Stys with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

As a safer approach than alcohol, Stys obtained a Colorado medical marijuana card. “No one is saying this is a cure-all, but it is a cure… There has to be a nuanced understanding of what cannabis is, how it affects people, how it can help with pain management, PTSD and war wounds.”

Stys also sustained service-related shoulder, knee and ankle injuries.

This summer, the first FDA-approved clinical trial will evaluate medical marijuana’s effectiveness against PTSD. Dr. Sue Sisley of Scottdale, AZ, will spearhead the trial after receiving federal approval.

After the FDA approval in 2010, it took Sisley six years to overcome all of the bureaucratic hurdles. She explains “There is big sense of urgency… We do have an epidemic of veteran suicide in this country. The question is, is the epidemic related to untreated or underdiagnosed PTSD, and could marijuana help deal with that epidemic?”.

Medical marijuana helps alleviate anxiety, insomnia, depression and pain associated with PTSD.

“PTSD has such a broad constellation of symptoms,” Sisley says. “And you can end up taking eight, 10 medicines to manage a single syndrome. This plant enabled them to walk away from all of these drugs.”

A bill passed last May will enable veterans to apply for medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.

The study has garnered about $8 million in research grants including $2 million from the Colorado Board of Health. Even with the FDA-approved clinical trial underway, the VA Medical Center in Phoenix is refusing to allow recruitment for the study on the hospital grounds. However, Sisley still plans on keeping the study in Arizona.

“We are not going to be run out of town by my opponents. I want to find a space in their own backyard, where they are forced to examine this.”

The mandatory military veteran drug testing of the Nixon era harmed veterans by taking away their marijuana which helped them cope. PTSD is the leading illness for medical marijuana in New Mexico. Even in Colorado, PTSD doesn’t qualify as an illness for medical marijuana. Dr. Sue Sisley hopes to change that.