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Last updated 7:42PM ET
August 16, 2018
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PTSD patients swamp state's medical marijuana program (Listen again)
(KSFR) -
New Mexico is one of 14 states which permits the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions including severe pain, nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, and glaucoma. Other states including New Jersey have pointed to New Mexico's program as a model of a well regulated and administered program, because of its supervision of the supply system.

However, there have been problems.

The program has come under attack for not providing enough marijuana from legal producers to cover demand. One reason for this is the explosion of clients in the program with one diagnosis added to the list of approved conditions in February of 2009- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. New Mexico is the only state of the 14 with programs which considers PTSD as an approved condition. Since it was added to the approved list more than 550 PTSD patients have been approved for the program. They account for more than of the registered users.

A condition becomes approved if a petition is presented to the Medical Advisory Committee to the medical marijuana program by a patient showing that he or she has a chronic severe condition that is not responding to standard treatment and for which there is scientific evidence of the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment. If the committee feels the evidence is sufficient it forwards a recommendation to the State Secretary of Health who makes the final decision. Dr. William Johnson is an Albuquerque psychiatrist who is a member of the Medical Advisory Committee in New Mexico which approved PTSD. He admits that controlled studies are nonexistent at this time. Interestingly enough the State Secretary of Health has refused to put some mental health diagnoses on the eligible list because of lack of hard data supporting marijuana as a viable treatment.

While there has been a large number of patients claiming relief from PTSD, scientific evidence is lacking. To date there are no studies done with humans showing any response to the drug. The study most often quoted by those supporting the use of the drug for PTSD was done at The University of Haifa in Israel in 2009 and reported in The Journal of Neuroscience. For the experiment, researchers exposed rats to electric shocks, then infused THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana, directly into the rats' amygdala, a structure located deep in the brain which is thought to deal with emotional memory.

They found that rats re-exposed to the shock after receiving the drug didn't exhibit as much anxiety as those not treated. The amygdala, however, still remains essentially a black box in the brain and its true functions and any linkage to PTSD have not been established. The Israeli scientists point out there study isn't conclusive, but merely points out the need for further research on humans.

Some scientists feel that not only is there no solid indication for the use of marijuana in the treatment of PTSD, but that the drug may make the condition worse. Dr. David Spiegel, director of the Stanford University Center on Stress and Health points out that recovery from any trauma begins with the victims regaining control over both their bodies and their mental reactions to the traumatic event. He says using marijuana could make that more difficult.

There is no doubt that marijuana is helpful in treating some medical conditions. The Health department finds itself between a rock and a hard place trying to dispense a limited supply of medical marijuana to all those who feel it helps their condition while assuring those with illnesses scientifically proven to be helped have appropriate access.

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