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University Drops Out of Pot for PTSD Study; Vets Demand Answers

Chris Roberts

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Though cannabis is legal in the District of Columbia, there isn’t much medical marijuana access in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area. Virginia is still a no-go zone, and four years after lawmakers in Maryland approved medical marijuana, would-be patients in that state are still waiting for the first delivery.

Keep in mind that the area around the nation’s capital is full of military veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder affects between 10 and 30 percent of vets, and PTSD is one of the conditions for which medical cannabis in Maryland is available—but until that state’s cannabis program becomes active later this summer, at the earliest, one of the only options for area combat vets to (legally) try cannabis for PTSD was through a study.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was one of two research institutions in the U.S. to receive funding to see if smoked marijuana helped combat-related stress, as a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests.

Hundreds of veterans inquired about participating—and they started to find out sometime last week, via a pre-recorded voicemail greeting, that the study had been canceled. Now, mystified and angered vets are demanding answers.

As Reason reported, both Hopkins and Arizona-based researcher Sue Sisley received funding from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to formally study marijuana’s efficacy in treating PTSD. Veterans—many of whom claim that marijuana allows them to be weaned off of harder, habit-forming drugs like prescription painkillers—would receive some cannabis to smoke, and the progression of their symptoms would be cataloged.

Up to 76 veterans were to participate in the initial stage of the study, to be held simultaneously with Sisley overseeing vets at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona (where medical marijuana is legal) and with Hopkins researcher Ryan Vandrey to run the study in Maryland (where it is legal only in theory).

Without warning and without formal announcement, the Hopkins study was canceled.

“If you are calling about the PTSD study, please know we are no longer participating in that study,” veterans who called a hotline number seeking participants were told as of Monday, Reason reported. A university spokesman later confirmed to Reason that the school had dropped out of the MAPS-funded study because “our goals for this study weren’t in alignment.”

Military veteran Sean Kiernan, president of the Weed for Warriors Foundation, is predictable apoplectic.

“Think of all the hopeful veterans now being told their hopes are dashed over voice mail,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ronald Daniels, Hopkins’s president. “This hardly seems to be the actions of a prestigious university concerned with veterans who are easily triggered by the continual systematic stonewalling of their needs.”

As Kiernan pointed out, 65,000 military vets have committed suicide or fatally overdosed on prescription medication since 2011—and Hopkins received $2 billion in federal funding for medical research in 2015, the most of any research institution in America for the 37th consecutive year, none of which appears to be helping vets.

So what happened?

Reason speculates it might boil down to shitty government weed. As has been documented extensively, the only marijuana available for study in the United States must come through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which licenses the University of Mississippi to grow the research supply.

According to researchers and anyone else who has seen the government cannabis, it is terrible—horrifyingly so. Sisley, the western partner in the PTSD study, raised hackles recently when she went public with her concerns about how bad the weed was.

It didn’t resemble cannabis,” she told PBS News Hour. “It didn’t smell like cannabis.”

Worse, the marijuana she was supposed to give military vets was contaminated with mold—and didn’t even meet the government’s own advertised potency standards. In other words—it was nearly worthless, yet this was the material she had to use.

MAPS is hinting that Sisley and the ensuing study will continue to highlight the difficulties presented by the government’s foul pot.

“Johns Hopkins wanted to remain focused on clinical research, and MAPS wanted to focus on the science, as well as on the policy issues surrounding the science related to the NIDA monopoly on marijuana for research,” MAPS spokesman Brad Burge told Reason in an email.

This isn’t a fight Hopkins is likely to join—not with $2 billion in government contracts every year at stake.

If this is the case—the nation’s leading research university dropping out because it’s unwilling to hurt the feelings of a government foisting moldy weed off on military vets and passing it off as research-grade—Kiernan and other jilted vets have reason to be upset.

As he told Hopkins’ Daniels, quoting JFK paraphrasing Dante: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.”

There’s certainly a circle in the Inferno for suppliers of bad weed.

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