05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Colo. Health Dept. Lobbying Against Veterans' Access To Medical Marijuana To Treat PTSD

On Monday, March 22, when the Colorado House Judiciary Committee considers a bill to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana in the state, State Rep. Sal Pace will offer an amendment to allow individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to have access to medical marijuana. Studies have found that compounds within marijuana, known as cannabinoids, can play an important role in stress-related disorders, and use of marijuana can greatly reduce the amount of stress hormone produced by the body in response to stress.

For some reason, however, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is actively lobbying members of the legislature to oppose the amendment. Officials are reportedly telling state legislators that allowing psychiatrists to recommend medical marijuana to PTSD patients is "like giving alcohol to an alcoholic." Yet the sad irony is that many PTSD patients turn to alcohol to alleviate their stress, developing serious alcohol problems that worsen their overall state of health. This is particularly the case with veterans who developed the condition while serving in conflicts abroad.

The actions of the Colorado Health Department stand in stark contrast to the thoughtful process followed by its counterpart in New Mexico, which added PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients in that state in February 2009. The New Mexico Department of Health's decision followed a recommendation of approval from an advisory board of eight medical practitioners, who examined the evidence and determined that the use of marijuana by patients with PTSD could be a beneficial treatment option.

As we have seen in New Mexico, the psychiatrist-advised use of medical marijuana can actually help PTSD patients reduce their alcohol intake, dramatically increasing their quality of life. Moreover, it is widely known that both alcohol and many of the pharmaceutical drugs given to PTSD patients increase the risk of suicide. Marijuana use does not. The Colorado Health Department officials' callous disregard of this fact alone should make them ashamed of their actions.

After a review of the evidence, health professionals in New Mexico agreed that medical marijuana could be beneficial for patients suffering with PTSD. By contrast, health officials in Colorado are attempting to deny veterans and other individuals with PTSD a legitimate treatment alternative based on nothing more than fear mongering and misinformation.

If these Colorado officials are going to continue to fight against adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in the state, they should publicly release the studies they have reviewed to determine that the risks of using marijuana for PTSD patients outweigh the potential benefits. And if they can't bring such evidence forward, they should get out of the way and allow veterans and others who suffer from PTSD to get the help they need to live healthy and productive lives.