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Advocates, doctors urge state to add PTSD to medical pot treatment

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Joshua Miller in the 13th paragraph as an attorney and erroneously Greene Consulting Group, his company, as a legal firm.

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PHOENIX – Mike Ulinger, who retired after 30 years as a Phoenix firefighter, said he couldn’t go anywhere or do anything and became an alcoholic to self-treat post-traumatic stress disorder he attributes to his job.

“You don’t have to have a bullet coming at you to get PTSD,” he said.

On Tuesday, Ulinger and others, including several doctors, urged the Arizona Department of Health Services to add PTSD to the list of debilitating conditions qualifying patients for medical marijuana.

Ulinger said at a public hearing, which also addressed whether to add migraines and depression as qualifying conditions, that using marijuana had eased his PTSD symptoms.

“I don’t drink anymore,” he said. “I use marijuana.”

In 2010, Arizonans approved Proposition 203, calling for the medical use of marijuana, by fewer than 5,000 votes out of 1.6 million cast.

At present, eight distinct medical conditions qualify for medical marijuana treatment: cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease-associated agitation.

Other chronic diseases, conditions or treatments, such as muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis nausea, may also qualify.

The University of Arizona’s College of Public Health will create a final report for the Arizona Department of Health Services that incorporates public testimony, online comment and a review of medical literature. Will Humble, the agency’s director, will make a final decision by early January.

One doctor testified that he was concerned about marijuana smoke raising cancer risks, but others urged state health officials to consider new peer-reviewed studies supporting medical marijuana’s effectiveness treating PTSD symptoms, along with evidence from Israeli and Canadian studies.

Dr. Richard Strand, a retired Valley radiologist, said that although there is new research available showing that marijuana improves PTSD symptoms, federal agencies make it difficult to do prospective, double-blind studies considered the gold-standard in medicine.

“I am not a user, prescriber or a dispenser, but it’s hard to ignore how much the current evidence shows marijuana can help control PTSD symptoms, and maybe some Prop. 203 funds can be used to do more studies here in Arizona,” Strand said.

Joshua Miller with Greene Consulting Group, which at the request of medical marijuana advocates wrote the petition to add PTSD to Arizona’s program, said that it is important that veterans have marijuana as a treatment choice for PTSD since “they develop this condition as they fight abroad for our freedoms.”

“When they come home, they do not yet have the freedom to choose a safe and effective treatment for their condition,” Miller said. “We are here today to ask you to grant that freedom.”

Jim Dyer, a Tucson medical malpractice attorney who uses medical marijuana as treatment for multiple sclerosis, a condition that now prevents him from practicing law, said he wants to make sure that decision-makers consider peer-reviewed evidence on both sides of the question.

“But, you don’t have any peer-reviewed articles that say it doesn’t help,” Dyer said.