Colorado Declines Medical Pot Access For Veterans With PTSD

CREDIT: Shutterstock


CREDIT: Shutterstock

Colorado rejected a bill Monday to allow medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The move is a sign of particular resistance in a state where every adult can access marijuana through the recreational marijuana system. Making PTSD a condition eligible for medical status would have meant patients could have been given marijuana with oversight from their doctors, and accessed it without the same tax burdens that accompany recreational marijuana. But it would have been particularly important for veterans, who could lose their Veterans Affairs benefits for using medical marijuana.

The House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee rejected the bill 5-6, thwarting the latest effort to add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The state Health Department has twice before rejected petitions to add PTSD to the list, according to the Associated Press. The vote came after lengthy testimony from individuals — mostly veterans — who teared up describing the unique relief from marijuana. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment head said there is insufficient research on PTSD and marijuana — a common justification for refusing medical use of pot even as the government has been complicit in suppressing that research.

The battle over the federal government’s suppression of research on marijuana has centered particularly on PTSD. For years, an FDA-approved, triple-blind University of Arizona study on marijuana’s affects on veterans with PTSD was thwarted by a federal committee’s unwillingness to give the researchers access to a legal supply of marijuana. In the interim, a New York University School of Medicine study concluded last year that marijuana may mitigate the flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and other symptoms common to PTSD sufferers. This study focused on brain imagining and did not require a legal supply of marijuana. In March, the federal panel finally agreed to grant access to marijuana for the Arizona study, paving the way for even more data.

In the meantime, 10 other states with medical marijuana laws have already listed PTSD as a qualifying medical condition, including four in just the past six months, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. For veterans, who disproportionately suffer from PTSD, medical marijuana is not an option under the federal Veterans Affairs program. In fact, it used to be the case that any veteran using medical marijuana could lose their VA benefits. In 2010, the department released new guidance stating that veterans receiving medical marijuana under a state program would not lose their benefits. So long as PTSD is not a qualifying medical condition, Colorado veterans do not appear to have that protection, and will be particularly wary to discuss the treatment with a doctor.

“Twenty-two veterans a day are killing themselves,” said Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona psychiatry professor leading the PTSD study who specializes in treating veterans. “They’re not benefiting from conventional medicine. And while many are using marijuana to help them with this debilitating disorder, they want it to be legitimized. They want data. They want to know what doses to take. They want to be able to discuss this with their doctors.”

While Colorado has led the charge with recreational marijuana, medical marijuana has become increasingly politically mainstream over the past year.