The National Commander of the American Legion, Denise Rohan, who has sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs asking for their help in making sure a study of cannabis for treating veterans can be completed. (Courtesy American Legion DC Twitter)

American Legion calls for ‘direct involvement’ from VA Secretary for federally-approved cannabis PTSD study

The American Legion is calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to clear roadblocks threatening completion of a groundbreaking clinical study on the use of medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in U.S. military veterans.

The federally-approved study is being administrated by Dr. Sue Sisley, site principal investigator with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), at the Scottsdale Institute outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The project is one of nine medical marijuana studies funded by historic grants from Colorado’s Health Department.

Scientists have almost completed research with 22 veterans and now need to screen 6,000 to 8,000 vets to enroll an additional 54 qualifying PTSD patients in order to move the study forward, The Cannabist reported at the end of August. However, Sisley and her colleagues say the Phoenix VA Health Care System obstructing patient recruitment efforts putting the future of the study in serious jeopardy.

On Tuesday Denise Rohan, the Legion’s national commander, sent a letter to VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, calling for his “direct involvement” in ensuring “this critical research is fully enabled.”

Despite federal approval, “the Phoenix VA has not allowed Dr. Sisley to communicate with their staff or veterans receiving PTSD care at the Phoenix facility to recruit for her clinical research,” said Joe Plenzler, the Legion’s media liaison. “Without the direct involvement of the VA, this important research is in jeopardy of not recruiting enough patients to complete the trial.”

Sisley welcomed the Legion’s latest letter. For months she has been warning that without some level of cooperation from the Phoenix VA the clinical study will be unable recruit qualified participants. In August, she was also unsuccessful in her attempts to speak in person to Secretary Shulkin at the American Legion’s national convention in Nevada.

“The American Legion is one of the most powerful/respected veterans’ organizations in the country,” said Dr. Sisley said in a written statement to The Cananbist, “Having their endorsement of our cannabis clinical trials is a wonderful gift. We hope this will resonate with the Phoenix VA hospital and they will finally agree to start cooperating with the FDA-approved study and sharing information with appropriate veterans who many want to volunteer.”

In her letter to Shulkin, Rohan emphasizes the VA’s “statutory” medical research mission, as well as its involvement in many historic medical breakthroughs and discoveries. The letter reads in part:

The research being conducted by the Scottsdale Institute is the first cannabis based research of its kind in The United States and could potentially produce scientific evidence that will enhance, improve and save the lives of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many veterans have approached us to tell us that access to cannabis has materially improved their health and well-being. While their stories are very compelling, we need clinical evidence to have a fact-based discussion on the future of cannabis policy.

This is not the first time the Legion has appealed to the VA on the issue of veterans and medical marijuana, but it is their most direct appeal in a year-long campaign to convince the department to support and enable scientific research on the medicinal value of cannabis.

Last April, the Legion sent a letter to the White House, requesting that President Donald Trump reschedule marijuana to permit research into its medical efficacy for treating vets suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

“We’re bringing the conversation up to a national level now,” Plenzler told The Cannabist. “The VA has done a lot of great research over the years. We’re counting on them to continue to back research to improve the lives of our veterans.”

Read the letter from the Legion

Letter to VA Urging Cannabis Research Access (Text)