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Pot-for-PTSD researcher denied reinstatement

Jul. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Medical marijuana is placed on a scale. The University of Arizona has rejected a marijuana researcher's plea to keep her job after her contract was terminated in June. (Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)
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The University of Arizona has rejected a marijuana researcher’s plea to keep her job after her contract was terminated in June.

Dr. Sue Sisley, an internist and psychiatrist with school’s telemedicine program, is the principal investigator of a planned study on the effectiveness of marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The research, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Health and Human Services Department, was to get underway within a year at the school and other locations.

But Sisley was told in June her contract would not be renewed. She received an automatic 90-day extension through September to look for another position and hired a lawyer to file an appeal.

That request was denied by school officials because Sisley, as a contracted physician and professor, was not entitled to an appeal, according to university documents.

“[It’s] very disappointing but it’s certainly no surprise since UA granted me no fair hearing. No opportunity for due process,” Sisley said in an email to Military Times.

Earlier this month, a school official denied the firing was related to Sisley’s research, which she, along with sponsor Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, spent four years developing and steering through legislative hurdles for approval.

A letter from the school indicated she was let go because the funding for her work with the medical school was running out and the department she worked for was “shifting direction,” according to the Associated Press.

Sisley remains convinced her termination is related to the marijuana research. Citing opposition in the Arizona Legislature in April to a bill that would have allowed the state to use its medical marijuana fund to support the study, Sisley said she believes the school does not want to cross state lawmakers.

“Much to the disappointment of the GOP-controlled legislature in Arizona, the public approved, through a legal referendum, medical marijuana. And [lawmakers] are still deeply resentful,” she said.

Nearly 100,000 people have signed a petition on change.org started by Ricardo Pereyda, a University of Arizona alumnus and veteran who says he manages his PTSD symptoms with pot.

“The results have been profound, marijuana has helped me live a more full and productive life,” Pereyda wrote on the petition.

Chris Sigurdson, a University of Arizona spokesman, said Sisley’s dismissal would not affect the study’s timing. He added that the university has contacted MAPS and has another principal investigator in mind to lead the study.

But MAPS has rejected that proposal and plans to move the study to another location, according to a statement. MAPS executives added that Sisley and veterans plan to attend the Arizona Board of Regents executive committee meeting Aug. 7 to support Sisley and request the research be allowed to continue at another Arizona state school — either Northern Arizona University or Arizona State University.

“Dr. Sisley‘s primary focus is finding a safe and secure home in Arizona for this research. ... Were it not for Dr. Sisley’s efforts, this research would not exist,” said MAPS executive director Rick Doblin.

The study already has been delayed while MAPS waits for the National Institute of Drug Abuse to grow the marijuana needed for the research.

As part of the research requirements from the federal government, MAPS must buy Drug Enforcement Agency-licensed marijuana, which is controlled by NIDA. That agency does not have in stock the pot containing the potency of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol needed for the research.

According to NIDA, the marijuana may be ready by January, but that is not certain. “We are targeting to obtain the cannabis varieties that you are looking for but it is too early to commit their availability in advance,” a NIDA official wrote in an email to MAPS.

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