When Dr. Sue Sisley, a lifelong Republican, was just beginning her residency at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, she refused to believe her patients when they told her about the healing potential of cannabis.
“I’ve always been interested in cannabis as a social justice issue and a matter of public policy, but I was never able to embrace it as medicine until these veterans really taught me how,” Sisley told me.
Sisley was “highly dismissive and judgmental” of marijuana at first but, over time, as more and more veterans shared their experiences, she started to accept its therapeutic potential.
Now, not only does she regularly treat multiple conditions by prescribing legal medical cannabis as an Arizona-based family physician, she’s part of a team involved in the first government-funded study to examine the effectiveness of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in vets.
The growing awareness of this plant’s therapeutic potential—as well as the spread of legal recreational and medicinal cannabisacross the United States—has eased issues of access, but some significant barriers remain. One such obstruction is a Veterans Affairs administration that remains resistant to the drug, asserting that “marijuana use for medical conditions is an issue of growing concern” and that “there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD.”
This decade, however, has seen some movement on the issue: The administration today usually allows vets to use cannabis without penalty in states where its access is legal.
Still, the government writ large remains resistant to cannabis law reform, even though numerous studies already show that cannabis can hold promising benefits for treating PTSD and many other conditions, including chronic pain.
While Sisley and her colleagues are eager to begin studying cannabis’ potential benefits as scientists, veterans like Joshua Apollo are already helping fellow vets access cannabis and teaching them how to use it more effectively.
Apollo’s service as a U.S. Army infantryman left him with lingering physical injuries and struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, all culminating in a suicide attempt before he began treating himself with cannabis in 2010.
“Cannabis was the ultimate treatment for me. It saved my life. I haven’t had suicidal thoughts or tendencies since starting marijuana,” Apollo told me.