All she needs now is a place to do the research, and a supply of legally obtained marijuana.
The Herald-Tribune interviewed Sisley during her recent whirlwind trip through the state to help United for Care win passage of the medical marijuana Amendment 2.
The proposed amendment on Tuesday’s ballot would give Floridians the right to acquire, possess and use marijuana for medical purposes, with a recommendation from a physician. The amendment requires a 60 percent positive vote to be ratified.
A Scottsdale, Arizona-based clinical psychiatrist and internist, Sisley also was an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s medical school in Phoenix until July.
She won federal approval for her study from the U.S. Public Health Service in March.
But then, at the end of June, she found herself without institutional backing, when the University of Arizona fired her.
University officials declined to explain why Sisley’s teaching contract at the U of A medical school in Phoenix was not renewed.
“We have half a million veterans living in Arizona,” she said. “If there is a reason our study is on the cusp of being implemented, it is because of their advocacy.”
During the past twenty years as a board-certified psychiatrist, her medical practice has evolved to the point where she has become a specialist in working with people who are experiencing post-traumatic stress — both veterans and first-responders.
There are more than ten target symptoms associated with the syndrome. The standard approach in psychiatry is to issue a different prescription for each target symptom.
“They end up drowning on pills — sometimes ten to fifteen prescriptions with all different drug interactions,” said Sisley. “Suddenly these vets look like zombies. They sleep all day. What we do to these guys is terrible.”
She has treated hundreds of veterans with PTSD.
“Many of them have walked away from their FDA-approved meds and use vaporized cannabis for symptom control,” she said.
“Most use it every day. Some use it intermittently.”
In Sisley’s opinion, it is this ability to substitute a plant that has a long record of safety for man-made pills that has the big pharmaceutical companies worried about cannabis.
“Their profits depend on plying patients with all these meds,” she said. “It is incredibly terrifying to big pharmaceutical companies.”
Sisley is not asking for, or expecting, federal funding for her cannabis-PTSD trial.
The trials would most likely be paid for with private funding from the Multidisplinary Associaton for Psychedelic Studies MAPS, a California-based non profit organization.
But she needs to be under the wing of a bona fide institution.
“We have hospitals that are super-conservative, and fearful of anything with the word ‘marijuana’ in it,” she said.
She confirmed that she has had some discussions about moving her already-approved PTSD research program to Nevada under the auspices of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
But for now, she is trying to keep the trial in Arizona, citing Arizona State University in Tempe as one current door that is still open.
The other challenge she faces is finding a reliable and legal supply of cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana.
At present, there is only one organization, National Institute of Drug Abuse NIDA, that has the monopoly on providing marijuana for medical work.
“This is a failed monopoly,” said Sisley. “Our study was approved in March. Here we are, six months later, and they still don’t have any marijuana to sell us.”
To solve that part of the equation, Sisley said, she is working with a Canadian marijuana supplier that already provides Canadian patients with their medicine through a license with Health Canada. The idea is to win FDA permission to export this pharmaceutical-grade product into the United States.
Sisley said she has high hopes for Florida as a serious medical marijuana state, much like Arizona is.
“We kept it mdical and we hope to share that with you guys once you have passed the amendment,” she said. “Go into any of the 80 dispensaries in Arizona, you are going to see sick and seriously ill patients there. These are not 18-year-old stoners.”
“I believe hopefully you guys will be a model for how to run a program, doing clinical studies along with enabling patients to have access.”