A dispute over whether to challenge the poor quality of federally provided marijuana material caused the world leader in medicine research to pull out of the study after 18 months.
Researchers at John Hopkins University have dropped out of a highly anticipated clinical trial investigating the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study, in the works since 2014, has been approved by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and could help influence federal lawmakers and the Department of Affairs to approve marijuana use for veterans.
The world-renowned medicine research facility apparently decided to back out after a disagreement with the sponsor and administrator of the study – the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Santa Cruz-based MAPS wanted to collectively challenge federal rules that require marijuana research to use cannabis provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
MAPS co-administrator Dr. Suzanne Sisley had publicly criticized the quality of the federally provided marijuana, which is grown at a facility at the University of Mississippi. Sisley has argued that the marijuana grown there is stringy, contains mold, and lacks cannabinoid potency. Last month, PBS and the Washington Post covered the issue. Researchers need, Sisley claims, a marijuana product that looks and feels like the real thing, and she had wanted John Hopkins researchers to also speak out.
Veteran advocates were disappointed to discover that John Hopkins had backed out, and only found out after hearing a recording on a hotline number intended to connect former servicemembers to researchers. PTSD, a psychobiological mental condition that causes severe anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, affects soldiers that have been in combat zones. PTSD also affects about 7.7 million American adults in a given year.
Sean Kiernan, president of the Warriors for Weed Project, sent a letter to John Hopkins University Ron President demanding an explanation of why it was no longer participating.
“We’re trying to study what cannabis does for veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD,” said Kiernan. “These are vets who have not been helped by the traditional regimen, and in many cases have been severely hurt.”
In response to the inquiries, a spokesperson for John Hopkins released a statement:
“It is Johns Hopkins’ mission to conduct high quality scientific research and save lives. Johns Hopkins elected to withdraw from the MAPS study of cannabis in veterans with PTSD prior to any participant enrollment because our goals for this study weren’t in alignment. Johns Hopkins remains dedicated to helping military veterans, finding improved treatments for PTSD, and conducting innovative research to enhance our understanding of both the risks and benefits of cannabis/cannabinoids.”
Findings in previous studies on cannabis and PTSD have been promising. The cannabinoids found in cannabis have shown to effectively block the continuous retrieval of traumatic events, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep in PTSD patients. One survey found that PTSD patients saw a 75 percent reduction in symptoms when using cannabis.
MAPS and Sisley will continue the study at a private laboratory in Arizona. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado, who had also joined in on the study, intend to continue their participation. The loss of John Hopkins is a blow, partly because its state of Maryland has a large population of veterans that could have been used in the study.
“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,” Brad Burge, communications director for MAPS, wrote in an email to Reason. “We still have an exceptionally strong research team, including the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado, as well as the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix. We think the study will still succeed without Johns Hopkins’ involvement, that we’ll be able to enroll all the participants we need at the Phoenix site, and that the study will still have sufficient diversity of participant population.”