(Desiree Martin, AFP/Getty Images file)

Bill adding PTSD to Colorado medical marijuana list clears Senate committee

A state Senate committee voted 5-0 on Monday afternoon to advance a bill that seeks to include PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in Colorado.

“I probably wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for cannabis,” said veteran Curtis Bean, one of dozens speaking in support of the bill before the State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee. Bean said he has lost one friend a year to suicide as they struggled with the side-effects of drug cocktails prescribed to treat their PTSD symptoms.

The committee also heard from representatives of the state’s major medical organizations, which urged caution for such an addition without more robust research.

“PTSD doesn’t have an age or a gender,” said Dr. Charolette “Charlie” Lippolis, a child and teen psychiatrist. “Most sufferers are not vets. I have concerns, grave concerns, about putting this forward as a medical treatment … without the data to support that.”

The amended Senate Bill 17, co-sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, and Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, would add PTSD and acute stress disorder as “disabling medical conditions” under the state’s medical marijuana law.

SB 17, which heads to the full Senate for consideration, is the latest attempt – of many – to include PTSD as a medical marijuana qualifying condition in Colorado, joining the likes of diseases and conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, seizures, severe nausea and severe pain.

“Physicians, it’s still up to you. … We’re just giving (doctors) another option for what they might recommend,” Aguilar said, following the hearing.

Aguilar, a medical doctor, told the five Senate committee members that she has never recommended medical marijuana in her practice and she even “felt scammed” when Colorado implemented medical cannabis regulations after a voter-approved initiative in 2000.

There’s an “institutional bias” in the medical community regarding cannabis, she said, adding that she became more open when hearing story after story from constituents.

If there’s another tool that a doctor can use for the betterment of a patient, they should have the option to use it, she said.

By a show of hands, the majority of the standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people at Monday’s hearing were there in support of SB 17. The majority of the public testimony came from supporters, who included veterans as well as survivors of abuse of trauma.

Teri Robnett, a medical marijuana advocate and organizer of the Cannabis Patients Alliance, which works with medical marijuana patients, said she’s interacted with many PTSD sufferers who are prescribed drugs with black box warnings of suicidal thoughts.

“Why do we want to continue giving them medications that have suicidal thoughts as part of their side-effects,” she said.

Seeing that first-hand, veteran Bean said he was dedicated to finding non-traditional therapies to aid his treatment — art, yoga, meditation and, eventually, cannabis.

“Cannabis is the absolute glue that holds me together,” he said.

Physicians, however, need more than simply anecdotal evidence, said Dr. Adam Burstein, a psychiatrist speaking on behalf of the Colorado Psychiatric Society, Colorado Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Society, the Colorado Medical Society, the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Burstein urged that the committee slow down the process so that more research is conducted to ensure the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD symptoms. He expressed concern, citing a study from Yale psychiatrist Samuel Wilkinson that correlates marijuana to negative psychological outcomes for veterans.

“The most important thing is to not approve something that would actually worsen the symptoms of PTSD,” said Burstein, a veteran himself.

PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana

More than 20 states, plus Washington, D.C. and two U.S. territories have an allowance for medical marijuana to be used in treating PTSD.

Jurisdiction Listed condition or physician discretion
Arizona Listed
Arkansas Listed
California Broad discretion by physician
Connecticut Listed
Delaware Listed
Florida Broad discretion by physician
Hawaii Listed
Illinois Listed
Maine Listed
Maryland Listed
Massachusetts Broad discretion by physician
Michigan Listed
Minnesota Listed
Montana Listed
Nevada Listed
New Jersey Listed
New Mexico Listed
North Dakota Listed
Ohio Listed
Oregon Listed
Pennsylvania Listed
Rhode Island Listed
Washington, D.C. Broad discretion by physician
Puerto Rico Broad discretion by physician
Guam Listed

Sources: Marijuana Policy Project and individual states’ medical marijuana laws