WASHINGTON — The Obama administration handed backers of medical marijuana a significant victory Friday, opening the way for a University of Arizona researcher to examine whether pot can help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress, a move that could lead to broader studies into potential benefits of the drug.
For years, scientists who have wanted to study how marijuana might be used to treat illness say they have been stymied by resistance from federal drug officials.
The Arizona study had long ago been sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration, but under federal rules, such experiments can use marijuana only from a single, government-run farm in Mississippi. Researchers say the agency that oversees the farm, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has long been hostile to proposals aimed at examining possible benefits of the drug.
“This is a great day,” said the Arizona researcher, Suzanne A. Sisley, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the university’s medical school, who has been trying to get the green light for her study for three years. “The merits of a rigorous scientific trial have finally trumped politics.
“We never relented,” Sisley said. “But most other scientists have chosen not to even apply. The process is so onerous. With the implementation of this study and the data generated, this could lead to other crucial research projects.”
Backers of medical marijuana hailed the news as an indication that the government had started coming to terms with one of the more striking paradoxes of federal drug policy: Even as about 1 million Americans are using marijuana legally to treat ailments, scientists have had difficulty getting approval to study how the drug might be employed more effectively.
“The political dynamics are shifting,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, a group based in Santa Cruz that is raising money to help fund studies such as Sisley’s. The group counts several prominent philanthropists among its backers, including two Pritzkers and a Rockefeller.
Halper reported from Washington and Carcamo from Tucson.