Daily Camera: Boulder Firm Hosts Researcher Looking at Pot, Vets and PTSD

Summary: The Daily Camera reports on growing support for MAPS and Dr. Sue Sisley’s FDA-approved study of marijuana for PTSD in veterans, highlighting public support from veterans, marijuana industry activists, Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Singer, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

Originally appearing here.

Sue Sisley passed through Boulder on Tuesday as part of a two-day cram course in marijuana production Colorado-style, which she hopes will be highlighted with her being awarded a $2 million grant from the state for a study of pot’s effectiveness in treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sisley, a psychiatrist, earned headlines in Arizona earlier this year when she says she was stripped of her post as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, with the cancelation of three contracts.

She is not letting that setback, however, deter her from pursuing funding for a research project that has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in which she is partnered with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"We’re very hopeful that everything is going to go the right direction and that this will be a victory for scientific freedom," Sisley said during a midday visit to Surna, a Boulder company that researches, develops and markets what it terms "disruptive technology" serving the legal cannabis industry.

She’ll know if victory is hers after Wednesday’s meeting of the state Board of Health at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver.

The state’s Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council has recommended eight research grants for consideration, to be funded out of a $10 million pool created by the state Legislature for medical-marijuana related research. CDPHE received 57 applications for research grants; 10 of those did not meet the application parameters, and a review of the remaining 47 produced the eight finalists.

Of the eight grant proposals coming before the board for consideration Wednesday, the $2 million price tag on Sisley’s study is almost double the next-highest grant proposal being considered.

"We’re very proud to be among the top eight because it’s been a four-year battle," Sisley said. "We submitted our original study design to the FDA back in 2010, and here we are, four years later, still miles away from getting this implemented."

‘It saved my life, 100 percent’

Sisley was met at Surna on Tuesday by local marijuana industry activists, a number of veterans who advocate marijuana as a treatment tool for PTSD, as well as State Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who both showed up to voice their support.

One of the vets was Chris Latona, 25, of Lakewood, who served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the Army and logged a full year’s tour in Afghanistan. He said he was not wounded, although "an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) blew up my humvee" while he was there.

He didn’t hesitate in endorsing marijuana as one component of managing the lingering stress of combat service.

"It saved my life, 100 percent. It could save my friends’ lives," Latona said, adding that he has lost numerous friends to suicide. "I’ve been smoking cannabis ever since I’ve been out of the military, and the days that I don’t have cannabis, it’s not a fun time. It is a critical, critical part of my healing process."

Latona doesn’t promote it as a substitute for appropriate prescription medicines.

"It’s a tool in a toolbox, and it can be used effectively, medicinally and carefully and be incorporated into the rest of the healing modalities, as well," said Latona, who also takes two prescription medicines. "I don’t want those other healing modalities to be discounted. … We have to do what we have to do to survive, and this is one of the things that helps me survive."

Seeing ‘profound’ potential in marijuana

Tae Darnell, chief legal counsel for Surna, was at Tuesday’s gathering and explained his company’s support of her planned research

"Sue represents exactly what we represent as a company, which is to advance the science and the technology behind the cultivation of this plant," Darnell said. "From a social level, the impact this plant can have on our healthcare system is profound. So, as a company, we very much believe in supporting the advancing of the science behind what we already know."

On Tuesday, University of Arizona spokesman Chris Sigurdson said he was limited by policy in what he could discuss on any personnel issue, beyond confirming that Sisley’s contracts were not renewed. Sigurdson did add, however, that non-renewals by the university are "not intended to be used for disciplinary or performance issues."

Meanwhile, Sisley will not be enjoying the recreational aspects of Colorado’s pot scene while visiting here from her home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"I’ve never tried marijuana, personally, so I don’t have any preconceived notions about how this plant operates," she said.

"But I have had 20 years’ experience working with veterans, and over the last decade or so, these guys are slowly disclosing to me that they are successfully using this plant to manage their symptoms."