Physician and renowned researcher in the field of medicinal marijuana, Dr. Suzanne Sisley, M.D., of Scottsdale, AZ will share her expertise with the Ohio House of Representatives task force on the legalization of medicinal marijuana at 7 PM on Feb. 18 at the Statehouse. She will address the potential benefits of using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, there will be a press conference earlier in the day beginning at 1:00 PM, Feb. 18, in the Statehouse Ladies Gallery for media personnel and others to hear Dr. Sisley discuss her work.
Specializing in internal medicine and psychiatry, Dr. Sisley is the site principal investigator for the only FDA-approved controlled trial which examines the use of marijuana (smoked) on combat veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.
“We have a real epidemic of veteran suicide. We’ve got vets that are killing themselves each day in this country at a very high rate, much more than the 22 a day that’s being reported by the VA,” says Dr. Sisley. “If the suicide rate is related to untreated or undertreated PTSD, then marijuana can likely help. This is what we hope to find out.”
Dr. Sisley, who is partnering with researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania, plans to begin a three-year study this year. Approved by the FDA in 2011, the study was awarded a $2.1 million grant by the state of Colorado Health Department in 2014.
Dr. Sisley said her interest in the use of marijuana to treat PTSD stems from her 20 years of treating veterans at the Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital, as well as in her own private practice. In caring for these veterans, she noticed the debilitating effects of PTSD on their lives. Many veterans have told her that they believed smoking marijuana helped them cope with their PTSD.
According to Dr. Sisley, there are only two medications that are available with a FDA indication for PTSD: Zoloft and Paxil. This is problematic because they often do not work well and are riddled with numerous side effects, such as impotence, weight gain, and a feeling of lethargy, she said. So physicians turn to other medications that are also ineffectual, she added.
“You can imagine how devastating this is for these vets because the first medicine does not work. Then we add two or three more and they’re still having symptoms. That’s why I’ve become so fascinated by marijuana because it appears that these veterans are using marijuana as monotherapy for their PTSD. They’re able, with a single plant, to manage the entire constellation of PTSD symptoms and actually be functional.”
The purpose of the study is to learn if marijuana is in fact helpful, which strains might be best for PTSD, and which ones should be avoided, she said. With the growing number of states that are adopting medical marijuana laws, Dr. Sisley believes it is increasingly important to collect objective data to gain enlightenment.
Gathering data for the study has been delayed due to obstacles in obtaining marijuana for testing. There is only one legal source of marijuana in the country for any FDA-approved trial — the cultivation center at the University of Mississippi, which is licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) through the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
According to Dr. Sisley, the NIDA monopoly on marijuana available for testing has obstructed research by not being able to produce the variety of marijuana that scientists need and in a timely manner. “Any other expert grower in the country could have had it grown to spec for us within three months.”
Dr. Sisley has testified on numerous occasions to members of congress and the senate in states which have legalized medical marijuana including Utah, New York, Vermont, Minnesota, Nevada, Hawaii, Maryland, Arizona and Washington State, as well as federally elected officials in Washington D.C. She has been featured as a spokesperson on medical marijuana research in many worldwide media outlets including CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and Military Times. She is frequently invited to speak nationally and internationally about the barriers to marijuana research in the U.S.
Dr. Sisley received her medical degree in 1995 from the University of Arizona College of Medicine where she served as an assistant professor for several years. After many years of treating patients in her private practice in the inner city of Phoenix, she now practices telemedicine, employing telecommunications technology to deliver medical care to people across rural, underserved areas of Arizona. She also serves as Clinical Faculty at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
Dr. Sisley has received numerous honors including the President’s Point of Light Award, the Arizona Medical Association’s highest honor: the President’s Distinguished Service Award, and Arizona’s most prestigious recognition for volunteerism: the Hon Kachina Award.
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