After months of advocacy by patients and medical professionals, Colorado has now added post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical cannabis program.
On Monday, governor John Hickenlooper made Senate Bill 17 official with his signature. In one week, patients suffering from PTSD can now be recommended medical cannabis with a physician’s authorization. Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the one week delay is simply to allow time for the department to update its medical forms.
The list of qualifying conditions has not been updated since 2001, when the state legalized medical cannabis, the reason being the absence of, “peer-reviewed published studies of randomized controlled trials or well-designed observational studies showing efficacy in humans,” according to previous comments made by officials. The list also includes AIDS, HIV, cachexia, cancer, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, and severe pain. Supporters of the bill included veterans as well as survivors of trauma and abuse.
Colorado’s list of qualifying conditions is rather perfunctory compared to other states, 23 of which already include PTSD in their medical cannabis programs. Multiple veterans organizations have been advocating nationwide for medical cannabis to treat PTSD. As a federal program, the Veteran’s Administration’s policy is to adhere to federal law, and therefore is subject to ongoing cannabis prohibition. As the majority of veterans utilize their VA healthcare benefits, medical cannabis treatments are not only prohibited but can potentially disqualify a veteran from future VA benefits if they use cannabis.
Although recreational cannabis is legal in Colorado, advocates insist that it’s cost-prohibitive for patients looking for ongoing, effective treatment. In addition, the kind of high CBD/low THC products are typically not available within the recreational market, as they do not provide the psychoactive high recreational cannabis customers are seeking.
Opponents of medical cannabis treatment for PTSD are still concerned about the lack of research supporting its effectiveness and the unknown effect it can have on a multi-faceted disorder. There was also the issue of providing PTSD patients under the age of 18 with medical cannabis, so an amendment was added that requires two physician recommendations, with one physician being a board-certified pediatrician or family physician, and another being a board-certified child psychiatrist familiar with the patient.
Even though peer-reviewed, published research is limited, there are promising studies currently in progress that are examining how medical cannabis affects PTSD symptoms. Dr. Sue Sisley is operating a DEA-supervised clinical trial that specifically studies veterans with PTSD. Other studies have examined how patients suffering from PTSD cope using a variety of medications, including medical cannabis. Although PTSD can be routinely diagnosed, there is no one single treatment that works on the majority of patients. In many cases, some form of cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy is recommended alongside a prescription drug treatment.
The current selection of prescription drug therapies can leave patients feeling groggy, tired, and unable to participate in daily activities. For veterans who suffer from multiple conditions, including chronic pain and nerve damage, the combination of drugs that are prescribed can make the side effects even worse. Making medical cannabis available, especially to veterans, allows patients to take control of their treatment and provides an alternative to those who have not found relief elsewhere.