Join Our Newsletter Now!

New York Debates Medical Marijuana Access For PTSD Patients

2 minute Read

New York’s medical marijuana program is among the most restrictive in the nation, but it’s slowly expanding. A bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the short list of qualifying conditions has now advanced to the state senate.

“I am grateful to the Senate Health Committee for advancing this compassionate bill, and on behalf of countless veterans who could benefit, I urge the full Senate to promptly approve the bill,” says Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. “Veterans with PTSD should not have to choose between FDA-approved medications that carry a black box suicide warning and off-label drugs with no clinical efficacy and horrible side effects. There is another way: medical marijuana has helped veterans have a restful night’s sleep instead of night terrors, and thus experience a better quality of life.”

Twenty-four of the 29 medical marijuana states allow patients with PTSD access to cannabis. “There is no rational reason why New Yorkers should not also be able to access medical cannabis to treat PTSD,” says Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Patients should not have to resort to accessing marijuana in a dangerous and unregulated criminal market to get the relief they need.”

At its genesis in 2014, New York’s medical marijuana program covered only ten qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, and AIDS. Recently, it’s expanded to include chronic pain, but patient advocates have been fighting for wider coverage overall.

Moreover, only five companies currently stock the 20 dispensaries throughout the entire state. The legislature motioned to offer licenses to five additional companies, but so far, the measure has only been met by lawsuits from the pre-existing New York medical cannabis companies. In addition to all these limitations, the state’s medical marijuana program disallows cannabis flower and edibles, only permitting vaporizable oils, tinctures, medicated patches, capsules, and topical salves.

Given that PTSD is on the list of pre-existing conditions compromising healthcare for millions of Americans, this piece of legislation carries significant weight for veterans.

While there’s no current FDA-approved treatment that effectively alleviates PTSD in full, investigation into the endocannabinoid system, or network regulating various bodily functions, including pain, sleep, appetite, and emotions, has shed light on how cannabis can help those suffering from trauma.

According to researcher Martin Lee with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, PTSD patients have lower levels of anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule,” an endogenous cannabinoid that occurs naturally in the body. “Innate to all mammals, anandamide (our inner cannabis, so to speak) triggers the same receptors that are activated by THC and other components of the marijuana plant,” he wrote.

Since PTSD is characterized by a deficiency in anandamide, cannabis can be especially therapeutic for trauma patients. Weed’s non-psychotropic compound CBD is particularly helpful for helping the body increase its levels of anandamide. CBD inhibits FAAH, an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, so when it can’t be broken down, the bliss molecule instead accumulates in the brain.

Cannabis replenishes the endocannabinoid receptor sites in the body, where PTSD causes deficiencies. “Scientists have determined that normal CB-1 receptor signaling {in the endocannabinoid system} deactivates traumatic memories and endows it with the gift of forgetting,” Lee added. “But skewed CB-1 signalling, due to endocannabinoid deficits (low serum levels of anandamide), results in impaired fear extinction, aversive memory consolidation, and chronic anxiety, the hallmarks of PTSD.”

Moreover, cannabis suppresses the REM phase of the sleep cycle, when dreams (and traumatic nightmares) take place. This could also allow patients with PTSD to sleep more peacefully.

In fact, there’s so much hope for cannabis as a PTSD treatment that researcher Sue Sisley even has approval from the federal government to study it. While the issue has much greater reach beyond the state of New York, this bill is indicative of a larger nationwide need that veterans and researchers have been fighting for.

New York Debates Medical Marijuana Access For PTSD Patients