Support medical marijuana for PTSD victims

October 20, 2011

For those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the outlook has been the same for years. Recently, new medical research has cast serious doubts on the effectiveness of the standard regimen for PTSD.

A study in an August issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Risperdal, a common anti-psychotic drug given to PTSD patients, is no more effective than a placebo, adding to a growing body of research that questions the effectiveness of standard treatments.

Luckily for PTSD sufferers, whose ranks have been swelled by veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a promising alternative: preliminary trials and user testimony point to marijuana as an effective replacement for Risperdal and other drugs.

Unfortunately, the government will not allow active studies on the subject to proceed. In April, the Federal Drug Administration approved a study to measure the effectiveness of cannabis to reduce PTSD-linked insomnia and anxiety. But now the Department of Health and Human Services has refused to sell previously guaranteed government-grown marijuana to the nonprofit group conducting the study, effectively halting the process.

This policy is illogical and immoral. Not only is marijuana an effective treatment for a host of physical and psychological issues, it is far less dangerous than both the mood-altering anti-psychotics that are used to treat PTSD and the host of addictive opiates we prescribe for chronic pain. Yet policymakers still treat it exactly like other Schedule I narcotics, such as heroin, that have far greater health risks.

Marijuana may be listed as a Schedule I narcotic, but it was never supposed to be. In 1970 it was put on the list temporarily, pending the findings of a government study. The study ultimately found marijuana’s harmful effects were so negligible for non-heavy users that personal use should not be illegal. Nevertheless the drug remains Schedule I.

The story gets more troubling when we consider our servicemen and women. A 2009 study by the University of California, San Francisco found 22 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD, a measurement that is probably low since the disorder can take years to develop. They and their families face it with little hope of effective treatment. The government would take their best hope away because the use of marijuana for legitimate medical purposes is seen as a divisive political issue.

Our suffering veterans shouldn’t have to wait for a favorable political climate. President Obama should direct HHS to reinstate the medical marijuana study, and put the needs of his citizens over the political needs of the moment.

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The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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