After more than three hours of debate over dropping post traumatic stress disorder from the Medical Cannabis Program, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board unanimously recommended to keep PTSD as a qualifier.
Albuquerque psychiatrist William Ulwelling made headlines last month when his plans to petition against PSTD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana went public. It led to plenty of press coverage—more than Ulwelling says he's ever experienced in his life—and resistance from medical marijuana advocates across the state.
Groups like the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico and the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program Patients' Alliance made efforts to bring in as many PTSD medical marijauna patients as possible to the meeting today. Several politicians—state Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo, Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo and state Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Bernalillo—showed up to speak in support of the current law as well.
New Mexico is one of three medical marijuana states to list PTSD as a qualifying medical marijuana condition. PTSD patients, in turn, make up roughly 40 percent of the MCP's approximate 7,000 active patients.
Ulwelling's argument against marijuana for PTSD hinge over the lack of peer-reviewed studies out there that link marijuana as proper treatment for the condition. Still, many anecdotal studies show a positive connection, and most on both sides of the argument agree that federal restrictions on marijuana are to blame for low number of studies.
Ulwelling also argues that PSTD sufferers are more vulnerable to addiction and that marijuana is linked to psychosis. Yet studies on both of those arguments are either conflicting or lacking.
At the meeting, Ulwelling's tone was often heckled by the many patients sitting behind him.
"If donuts were recommended as a treatment for PTSD, I wouldn't be here," Ulwelling told the board. "There's no evidence that donuts treat PTSD, but what's the harm?"
"Diabetes!" one person shouted as commotion in the audience rose quickly. Members of the board often had to quiet down the crowd.
Other Ulwelling musings that didn't go over too well with the patients:
"The people that have tried [medical marijuana] and felt horrible obviously aren't here today."
"In my explanation, let's start with 100 people with PTSD. Of those, let's say 60 develop a substance abuse problem ... Take the remaining 40—and I'm making these numbers up, it's a hypothetical thing—" [commotion rises] "—And that's another of my points, we don't know the numbers."
"Many people argue that PTSD is the easiest end-run around the medical marijuana laws. These people would argue that many people who claim PTSD don't really have PTSD. But it's the easiest indication to do an end-run around medical marijuana laws because it's the only indication that has purely subjective components."
Ulwelling came under fire from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine for signing as an assistant professor on his petition. His contract with UNM ended in 2007.
"Are these titles currently accurate?" MCAB member Steve Jenison asked about the titles listed next to Ulwelling's letterhead on the petition.
Ulwelling responded that the titles needed updating.
"Have you published any peer-reviewed articles?" Jenison asked.
"A couple when I was a resident," Ulwelling responded. "I had a patent pending on a new antidepressant—"
The crowd interrupted again.
"—I chose not to pursue it because of concerns with patients' safety," he finished.
In the end, the MCAB members concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to support Ulwelling's argument that medical marijuana can cause psychosis or lead to harmful addictions.
"The [intent] of medical cannabis law was not that cannabis should be recommended for anything," Jenison said. "The intent of the law is to protect those individuals who through consultation with their clinician have decided that medical cannabis relieves their symptoms and protecting them from criminal liability."
Jenison went on to explain the lack of proper treatment available for PTSD across the nation. Bill Johnson, an MCAB member and psychiatrist, talked about how the Department of Health, which administers the MCP, had no evidence to show that medical marijuana was harming its patients.
"I think it's good that we have this discussion," Johnson told Ulwelling. "I share your concerns about the risk of psychotic disorders with cannabis use but ... I remain unconvinced that [marijuana] is a major public health issue—the risk of psychosis with use of medical cannabis."
Ulwelling later told SFR that he appreciated the board's fair questions.
Next, the MCAB takes its recommendation to interim Health Secretary Brad McGrath, who has final say in wether PTSD stays as a qualifying condition.
"We're hopeful," DPANM Executive Director Emily Kaltenbach tells SFR. "I believe the board made a very informed decision."