A long-awaited clinical trial on using cannabis as a treatment for veterans with PTSD has finally been published in the PLOS One journal, but the results are far less promising than researchers and veterans had hoped.
This new study, helmed by Dr. Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute and Marcel Bonn-Miller of the University of Pennsylvania, was funded by a $2.2 million grant from the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). It took the research team seven years to get federal approval to conduct the study, and three additional years to complete the research.
For the first phase of the study, researchers recruited 76 military veterans aged 24 to 77 and divided them into 4 groups. Each subject was asked to smoke 1.8 grams of cannabis flower or a placebo every day for 3 weeks. One group smoked flower with 12 percent THC content, another smoked flower with 11 percent CBD and almost no THC, a third group smoked a balanced blend with 8 percent THC and CBD, and the final group smoked a placebo with no active cannabinoids.
Other studies have found that cannabis can help treat PTSD symptoms, but the present study was unable to confirm these findings. The researchers found no significant difference between any of the cannabis blends or the placebo. In fact, half of the veterans who smoked the placebo even thought that they were smoking real weed. The only positive takeaway from the trial is that none of the veterans experienced serious negative reactions to smoking pot daily for 3 weeks.
The research team is not ready to give up hope yet, though. The study authors have identified several confounding variables that may have impacted their results. For one, all of the veterans enrolled in the study were aware of the importance of this research, which may have led subjects in the placebo group to falsely report improvements to their symptoms. It is also possible that three weeks is not enough time for cannabis to have an impact on PTSD.
But this research may have also been compromised by the low-quality cannabis that researchers were forced to use. To comply with government restrictions, scientists were required to use cannabis grown by the University of Mississippi, the one and only institution that is legally allowed to grow cannabis for research purposes.
Even though this facility has been growing weed since the 1960s, the grass it produces bears little resemblance to the top-shelf cannabis sold in most US states. This facility deliberately produces weed with around 8 percent THC content, compared to the 15 to 25 percent found in quality flower. In fact, the 12 percent THC strain that the researchers ordered for this study turned out to only have 9 percent THC.
Independent studies have found that this government pot is actually closer to hemp than marijuana, and some samples were even contaminated with mold. The quality of this weed is so bad that Johns Hopkins University, which was a part of the study's original research team, backed out of these trials entirely. Dr. Sisley eventually sued the DEA to demand that they allow more institutions to grow research weed, but even with the intervention of a federal court, the DEA has yet to approve additional growers.
“MAPS and Dr. Sue Sisley deserve a medal for the absolute intentional dysfunction they overcame to complete this study and publish its findings,” Sean Keirnan, president of the Weed for Warriors Project, said to Leafly. “All someone has to do is look at the lack of quality cannabis provided by the Federal Government’s monopoly, NIDA, to understand our Government is not taking our healing seriously.”
The study did prove that veterans are able to tolerate cannabis with little to no adverse health consequences, though, which means that the feds will allow further research to continue. And instead of using more government schwag, researchers intend to source actual high-quality cannabis for their next round of studies.
“Despite the absurd restrictions federal prohibitionists have placed on research for more than 50 years,” Dr. Sisley told Leafly, “we are squarely focused on launching further Phase 2 trials with imported cannabis of tested, higher potency, fresher flowers that will provide a valid comparison for the millions of Veterans and others with PTSD who are looking for new options.”
“When science tells us cannabis is safe, common-sense should tell everyone, cannabis is an amazing substitute for opioids, and other legal accessible substances that carry with them the side effects of addiction, overdose, and suicidal ideation,” said Kiernan to Leafly. “Is it any wonder why millions prefer cannabis over deadly pharmaceuticals and other harmful substances? It simply is a safer substitute.”