Cannabis and Mental Health
This post is taking a different approach than others. Readers will learn about my personal experience which I have been sharing since my early days as an advocate. My anecdotal outcomes and conclusions may not be the same as those of other consumers, but it is an example of positive effects and also points to the need for more research. I have told my better half that I never consumed cannabis on a regular basis until we met. Although I say it jokingly, it is a fact, and I credit it for keeping our relationship going for twelve years. (And, of course, the fact that she is a saint.) For most of my adult life, I have suffered from both deep depression and PTSD. I never understood it, but I knew that cannabis took the edge off and allowed me to think about issues and focus on goals for the day. Many psychiatrists have heard similar stories from their patients and have become interested in doing studies related to the use of cannabis in treating mental health issues, especially PTSD.Dr. Sue Sisley became interested in cannabis and cannabinoid research after patients approached her about the perceived benefits from cannabis for PTSD. It became clear to her that it was worth exploring. “There’s a mountain of anecdotal evidence that was accumulating from my own patients and I realized the medicines I was prescribing weren’t doing the job.” Sisley added, “At that point, I agreed that we owed it to them to study the plant in a rigorous and controlled environment. That’s when I started working on clinical trials.”

Having worked for a decade fighting for the Smoke Free Workplace Act in Arizona, Dr. Sisley was surprised to discover the efficacy of smoking flower. She admitted that smoking is a legitimate delivery mechanism, and that it is powerful and robust. In an interview with Cannabis Science and Technology, Sisley commented. “In some cases, pulmonary function testing even improved with smoked cannabis flower, and I was really mystified by that because it seems so paradoxical to what you would expect as a physician.”

After a decade of preparation for her study, she still found that the FDA and federal government were increasingly difficult to deal with, so she and her lab filed a lawsuit. In 2016, the DEA announced that it would start accepting applications for licensed growers to supply cannabis for legitimate research in the United States. However, the DEA dis not follow the timeline outlined in that document.

In August 2019, the DEA issued a press release announcing that it would be moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medicinal research for cannabis and providing notice for entities applying for registration to manufacture cannabis for researchers. Dr. Sisley responded by saying, “We consider it a victory in some respects, at least theoretically. This is only a minor achievement because it has not resulted in any tangible change. Researchers still must purchase cannabis solely from the University of Mississippi.

Dr. Sisley says that “the government has not provided a timetable when they will process the applications and approve new growers, so this could be years or even decades away. The DEA is admitting that 33 applications have been sitting on their desk for three years.” She added, “Scientists like me that have dealt with federal agencies and the slow and extensive bureaucracy here, don’t view this as a time to celebrate….It’s not a tangible victory until the studies are finally moving forward with real-world cannabis.”

According to Psychiatric Times, “many patients with psychiatric disorders use cannabis and report improvements in their symptoms. Patients use cannabis for symptoms of PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, opiate dependence, and even schizophrenia. In addition, patients use cannabis for neurological conditions such as the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, agitation in dementia, and specific seizure disorders that are unresponsive to standard therapies. Patients also use cannabis to reduce the nausea and anorexia of cancer chemotherapies and to improve mood and outlook – frequently with their oncologist’s approval.”  These are topics that many in the advocacy community have been discussing for years. According to a January 2020 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “There is currently encouraging, albeit embryonic, evidence for medicinal cannabis in the treatment of a range of psychiatric disorders. Supportive findings are emerging for some key isolates; however, clinicians need to be mindful of a range of prescriptive and occupational safety considerations, especially in initiating higher dose THC formulas.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6966847/

The federal government’s resistance to moving forward to reclassify cannabis prevents research at a time when there is a need for answers and for results that are necessary for treating symptoms that impact our daily lives. Those who have been consuming to alleviate symptoms of depression, PTSD and other mental health issues need answers.

We look forward to the results of studies by Dr. Sisley and her team at the Scottsdale Research Institute with the hope that it provides a clearer path toward the treatment of mental health issues.