Legalisation of medical marijuana around the world is cautiously, if not slowly, being introduced by countries who are also conducting research. Despite showing promise for cancer treatments, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases, there has been little evidence for the use of medicinal marijuana in pain management and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Previous research may well have studied cannabis (marijuana) using dosages that were too low, and marijuana research is still relatively new in most countries. Israel is currently at the forefront of research into and manufacture of marijuana.
Dr Raphael Mechoulam is the Israeli physician who discovered THC as the active ingredient in cannabis that gets users high, as well as cannabidiol (CBD), another therapeutic component of cannabis. There are, in fact over 500 chemical compounds present in a cannabis plant. While pharmaceutical companies have isolated and produced THC as a synthetic drug, the chemical compounds, which include 113 cannabinoids, are thought to work best together in the ‘Entourage Effect’ to produce therapeutic benefits for diseases. That means the whole plant needs to be taken in either ingested, inhaled, smoked or oil forms to have the desired medical benefit, not just parts of the plant.
Dr Mechoulam also discovered a neurotransmitter within the endocannabinoid system in the brain related to memory extinction. It’s because cannabis has this effect on memory that he believes it is a useful drug for PTSD. If patients such as war veterans respond to stimuli such as loud noises remind them of their initial trauma, then marijuana may assist them break that association through memory extinction.
Dr Mechoulam is now in his mid-80s and still working. However, he has called for more widespread research into therapeutic effects of THC and CBD. Outside of Israel this may be proving a little difficult. In an increasingly conservative USA a physician in Arizona has been trying to get research into the benefits of marijuana on PTSD for war veterans since 2009. Dr Sue Sisley was even fired from the University of Arizona in 2014 despite having approval for her marijuana study protocol. Sisley became interested in studying the benefits of cannabis after she had seen so many veterans in her practice over 20 years who reported feeling so much better after smoking marijuana. She now has FDA approval for her research again which will be conducted at her base in Phoenix, after Johns Hopkins University pulled out of the study. They did this after Sisley had complained about the potency of the marijuana supplied to her for the study and had questioned whether the government-run growing facility in Mississippi had sabotaged previous research as well as hers.
In the US marijuana is still a schedule 1 drug and requires compliance with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) protocols. Despite the uphill battle Sue Sisley has experienced over the last 6 or so years, she feels that medicinal marijuana benefits veterans with signs of PTSD including depression, sleeplessness, hyperarousal, avoidance, and re-experiencing. Let’s hope there are no more obstacles.