Gaining Momentum to Show Efficacy of Cannabis as Treatment for PTSD

Dr Sue Sisley in Seattle With Vets

Dr Sue Sisley in Seattle With Vets

If you know anything about the potential uses of marijuana to treat veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you’ve probably heard of Dr. Sue Sisley. This gutsy, committed doctor and researcher has been treating U.S. Veterans for over 20 years.

In talking with Dr. Sisley, it became clear early on that her story is one of compassion and understanding. She’s the first to admit she believed prescribing benzos, SSRIs, opiates and other conventional FDA-approved meds to her patients was the best treatment at one time.

“At first, I didn’t hear what my patients were saying about the benefits of marijuana,” said Dr. Sisley. “In medical school we were taught that marijuana was dangerous and we certainly didn’t learn that every human body has an endocannabinoid system and it’s the most crucial homeostatic mechanism.”

And, yet, the veterans Dr. Sisley was seeing continued to share their positive experiences using marijuana as a mono-therapy for a range of ailments. The standard meds used to treat PTSD weren’t working for her patients, came with unpleasant side effects, and are highly addictive.

“I began to listen to my patients without judgment,” said Dr. Sisley. “It isn’t necessarily easy for patients to push back at doctors in general. But, the vets were making reputable claims and, they taught me a lot. We owe it to veterans to study the cannabis plant.”

In addition to serving her patients, Dr. Sisley is currently the Principal Investigator for the only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial looking at use of the whole marijuana plant in combat veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD.

“This study is crucial for patients and the medical community,” said Dr. Sisley. “We are taking the appropriate steps and meeting the requirements to conduct this study using a gold standard method of research.”

Now in Phase 2 of three phases, this study has not been easy to move forward. The FDA approved the research in 2011, but Dr. Sisley is still waiting to implement the study. The Public Health Service (PHS) alone took three years to review her proposal and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which oversees the federal government’s cannabis farm at the University of Mississippi, is just now able to provide cannabis for the study: cannabis that is much lower in THC and not the CBD-rich strains veteran patients have found beneficial. Requesting a better crop of cannabis at this time will only delay the study further.


Dr. Sue Sisley

Dr. Sue Sisley Will Speak on “Veterans and Medical Cannabis: Slaying the Dragons for Science-PSTD” at the International CannaPro Expo in Orlando, Florida in October.

What would she tell other doctors sitting on the fence about cannabis as treatment?

“I’d ask them to consider the Hippocratic Oath they took. Treat patients as human beings and listen to them. And, rather than be mired in the politics of cannabis, learn the facts and the science of cannabis.”

In 2014, as Dr. Sisley began to gain momentum in getting this study off the ground—potentially a first  in showing the efficacy of cannabis—she was abruptly fired from the University of Arizona, an institution where she had served as a faculty member in excellent standing for nearly seven years. Could her termination have resulted from her unflagging efforts to enable the study to finally be implemented? Dr. Sisley certainly believes so.

For some, losing a university post could be devastating. For Dr. Sisley, who was warmly enveloped by the veteran community at the time, it allowed her to prioritize her patients’ needs and to actively advocate for science over political pressure.

“What’s happening to our veterans is a public health crisis,” said Dr. Sisley. “They don’t deserve ‘Combat Cocktails,’ which are highly addictive and potentially dangerous opiates.” Such a statement demands the question . . . How long will the study take?

According to Dr. Sisley, Phase 2 of the study involves two sites and 76 veterans and could take two years to complete. Based on the safety and efficacy of Phase 2, Phase 3 of the study would expand to 1,000 veterans and 30 to 40 sites, which could take another two to three years.

“Getting past Phase 3 of this study will move the needle in bringing cannabis to market as an FDA-approved treatment for PTSD,” said Dr. Sisley. “The more doctors embrace the vast existing medical research and understand the cannabinoid system within every human body, the closer we will get to accepting this incredible plant.”

canna-pro-expo-thumb-150x150To learn more about the science of cannabis, its potential for treating a variety of ailments and diseases, and about the cannabis industry, consider joining Oaksterdam University and the International Canna Pro Expo October 2, 3, and 4 in Orlando, FL. Dr. Sisley is one of the distinguished speakers.  Learn More

ffsf-buttonPlease Note: Oaksterdam University has a Freedom Fighter Scholarship Fund, which offers scholarships to veterans interested in enrolling in OU classes. Learn more about OU’s FFSF Program.


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