FDA Approves Study of Cannabis for PTSD

The long-maligned field of U.S. medical cannabis research took a step forward with the formal government approval of a study on the efficacy of marijuana to treat chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans. Dr. Rick Doblin, executive director of the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in Santa Cruz, Calif., said today in an interview that the Food and Drug Administration on April 28 approved MAPS’ protocol for a study of smoked and vaporized marijuana use for symptoms of PTSD.

Scheduled to study 50 veterans in Arizona with PTSD, the approval represents a generational landmark in cannabis research. It’s the first FDA-approved study in 30 or 40 years that will give cannabis to patients for home use, Doblin said. According to the protocol, neurochemical research indicates cannabis may help relieve chronic PTSD symptoms such as anxiety and depression through a variety of interactions with the endocannabinoid system. The study still faces extremely high hurdles before it can begin. It must also be approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – which states on its website that it believes smoked marijuana is not medicine. Doblin said NIDA has repeatedly denied approval to MAPS cannabis studies, despite repeated FDA approvals.

Doblin said that while the FDA is interested in pursuing cannabis research, NIDA is not. “I’m not very optimistic at all. Most studies never happen,” said Doblin. NIDA has the unique authority to stop cannabis research, while it may not prevent research on other psychoactives such as LSD, Doblin said. On April 28, the FDA approved MAPS’ planned study of smoked or vaporized marijuana to treat symptoms of PTSD in war veterans, marking the first time a government agency has approved an outpatient marijuana study.

The Marijuana Business Report reflects on the implications of this development of medical marijuana research in the U.S.