Yesterday the Colorado Board of Health delivered a chilling message to patients across Colorado: You and your experiences don’t matter.
After several previous attempts and hours of heart-wrenching testimony, a petition to add PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana was soundly rejected by the Board of Health in a 6-2 decision.
The Board chose to ignore all the patients and supporters who stepped up to testify in favor of the petition, and side with the psychiatrists and drug rehab counselors who opposed it saying there isn’t enough evidence to support its use and plenty of evidence showing harm. They simply ignored the evidence sitting right in front of them: the patients who are finding enormous benefit from cannabis when nothing else has worked.
And they completely ignored the very thoughtful and deliberate debate by the Scientific Advisory Council, their own panel of experts tasked by the CDPHE to review petitions. A majority of the SAC (7-3) as well as Chief Medical Officer Larry Wolk supported adding PTSD.
This isn’t the first time the BoH has been petitioned to add PTSD. This was at least the third or fourth attempt for PTSD, not to mention all the other conditions that have been petitioned for as well. Since voters passed Amendment 20 and legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2000, all attempts at getting any condition added have been rejected by the Board. And it was apparent during deliberation that, had it been up to them, they would not have approved any of the conditions currently on the list had they not been included in the constitutional amendment.
With that, the Board of Health spit in the face of every medical marijuana patient in Colorado.
The bar is set impossibly high, held to the standards that cannabis researchers have been precluded from doing since at least the 1970s. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a strangle-hold on cannabis research. With NIDA’s mandate to look at negative effects and potential for abuse, as well as having full control over the source of marijuana available for research, is it any wonder we haven’t done a lot of studies on efficacy in the United States? To expect cannabis to rise to this level of research in order to prove effectiveness and safety is completely unreasonable.
The Board of Health has come up with plenty of reasons to deny a petition, but no reasons for accepting one.
Department denial of petitions. The department shall deny a petition to add a debilitating medical condition within (180) days of receipt of such petition without any hearing of the board in all of the following circumstances:
a. If there are no peer-reviewed published studies of randomized controlled studies nor well-designed observational studies showing efficacy in humans for use of medical marijuana for the condition that is the subject of the petition;
b. If there are peer-reviewed published studies of randomized controlled trials or well-designed observational studies showing efficacy in humans for the condition that is the subject of the petition, and if there are studies that show harm, other than harm associated with smoking such as obstructive lung disease or lung cancer, and there are alternative, conventional treatments available for the condition;
c. If the petition seeks the addition of an underlying condition for which the associated symptoms that are already listed as debilitating medical conditions for which the use of medical marijuana is allowed, such as severe pain, are the reason for which medical marijuana is requested, rather than for improvement of the underlying condition; or
d If a majority of the ad hoc medical advisory panel recommends denial of the petition in accord with paragraph (3) of this section D.
The Board of Health makes its own rules when it comes to these petitions. They’re not written in statute or stone. In my mind, that means they have the authority to override or change these rules. In fact, they did just that when they included observational studies as well as randomized controlled trials for consideration this time around. But there was no consideration of the overwhelming “evidence” presented by the patients who are actually getting relief using cannabis in yesterday’s hearing.
In this case, they chose to side with the psychiatrists and addiction counselors who have the most to gain by maintaining the status quo, the very people who hand out drugs like candy despite the devastating side-effects, the very people who continue to experiment on patients because they really don’t know what works and what doesn’t. Just imagine what would happen to them if people started using medical marijuana in place of their pharmaceuticals! That must be a very scary proposition for the drug companies as well as the psychiatrists who promote and prescribe their products. Billions of dollars in drug sales could be lost! Anyone else see a conflict of interest here?
One of the members of the Board said that she didn’t want Colorado patients to be an experiment. I have news for her. They already are!
Patients are experimented on daily. Pharmaceuticals for mental conditions are prescribed on a trial-and-error basis, often off-label with no “evidence” to support their use. Patients are regularly told, “Take this, then come back in 6 weeks and we’ll see how you’re doing. If it’s not working, we’ll try something else.” They find themselves on an endless treadmill of one drug after another, often in combination, with documented side-effects as severe as uncontrolled muscle spasms, suicidal thoughts, addiction and death. That is, until they find their way to cannabis.
Only two drugs have been approved by the FDA for PTSD. Where is the evidence that all the off-label prescribing is beneficial? Where are the studies showing that these drug combinations are safe and effective? Where is the research demonstrating that these drugs are any better than cannabis in treating PTSD?
So rather than giving PTSD sufferers the recognition and respect they deserve by allowing them access to medical marijuana and to have an authentic and honest relationship with their doctor, they simply turned them all over to the recreational market. The message: We don’t approve of your use of marijuana for PTSD (or any other condition, for that matter), but if you insist on doing it anyway, you can get your dope from the rec stores. What an appalling public health policy!
I’ve spent the last 4 years working to make sure patients are included in the conversation, convincing them to step up, speak out and tell their truth. How many more times do I have to parade sick and dying patients in front of a board or committee begging to be heard, begging for relief, begging for their rights? How many more voices will it take to overcome the prohibitionists who cling to Reefer Madness and DARE screaming that marijuana is a very dangerous drug and a scourge on society? How much more “evidence” will it take to finally recognize the medicinal benefits of this amazing plant?
It’s long past time for policy-makers to recognize that patients matter. Their stories matter. Their experiences matter. Patients are finding enormous relief and healing from cannabis.
Like it or not, that matters!
We need your help to continue working to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Colorado. Having a voice for patients involved in these discussions is critically important. Cannabis Patients Alliance is that voice. Since 2012, we have been at the forefront of every policy decision affecting medical marijuana patients in Colorado. We need your support! Please, DONATE NOW or BECOME AN ALLY so we can continue this important work.