Colorado, land of pot experimentation, rejects PTSD use
Denver — Colorado is known for pushing boundaries on marijuana, but a recent decision from the state health officials rejecting pot as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder shows the issue is far from settled.
Thought voters have made marijuana legal for both medical and recreational use, public officials at every level of government have continually pushed back.
The Board of Health voted 6-2 Wednesday against adding PTSD to the list of ailments eligible for treatment with marijuana. The rejection came despite a recommendation from Colorado’s chief medical officer and a panel of physicians.
Board members cited a lack of research, including medical trials. “We have an absence of scientific information,” board member Rick Brown said.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law and some scientists say research has been stymied by government hurdles, including a declaration that marijuana is a controlled substance with no accepted medical use.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services made it a little easier for privately funded medical marijuana research to get approved. The department said a federal Public Health Service review of research proposals is no longer necessary because it duplicates a required review by the Food and Drug Administration.
But some people attending Wednesday’s PTSD vote in Denver pointed out that none of the medical conditions currently eligible for state medical marijuana cards, including AIDS, epilepsy and glaucoma, has the kind of scientific backing the board mentioned.
One physician recently awarded a state grant to study marijuana use by veterans testified that PTSD sufferers are already using pot to treat their symptoms.
“People are going to use it anyway,” said Dr. Sue Sisley, adding PTSD sufferers can shop at recreational dispensaries or get a doctor’s recommendation for the broad category of “severe pain,” which covers more than 90 percent of the 113,000 Coloradans on the state medical marijuana registry.
Sisley pointed out that many of those patients ask pot-shop employees known as “budtenders,” not their physicians, about using pot to treat PTSD. “This just provides better access to different strains under a physician’s guidance,” Sisley said in favor of adding PTSD to the medical pot registry.
The chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, told the board that adding PTSD would make the registry more “honest.”
Nine states consider PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon.
But the board, many of them physicians, said they couldn’t approve a medical treatment that falls short of federal guidelines.
“This is a terrible condition. We don’t have a great way to treat it,” board chairman Dr. Tony Cappello said, highlighting an established federal process for drug approvals.
The rejection showed the latest disconnect between voters and public officials on the issue.
When Colorado voters approved recreational pot in 2012, just one of state’s 100 lawmakers, Rep. Jonathan Singer, endorsed the idea. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper remains cautious and says not enough is known about legalization’s effect on young people.
Singer, a Longmont Democrat, has said he would propose a bill next year to circumvent the appointed board and add PTSD without its approval.
“We have to balance our science and our humanity together,” he said.