Drug Policy

Johns Hopkins University Dropped Out of a Clinical Trial for Smoked Cannabis, and Veterans With PTSD Want to Know Why

A successful clinical trial could move whole-plant marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II


Some U.S. military veterans received unpleasant news last week when they tried enrolling in a clinical trial conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Johns Hopkins University. Upon calling a widely circulated hotline number intended to connect former servicemembers to researchers conducting a study on the efficacy of smoked cannabis as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, they learned the study wasn't happening. Not at Hopkins, anyway.

"If you are calling about the PTSD study, please know we are no longer participating in that study," the voicemail greeting said as of Monday morning. While the message has been playing since at least last week, neither Johns Hopkins University nor the psychiatry department had formally announced withdrawing from the study as of yesterday.

That's why Sean Kiernan, president of the Warriors for Weed Project, sent a letter to Johns Hopkins University Ron President on Monday demanding that the university publicly explain why it was no longer participating in the study, which is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

"We're upset with Hopkins," Kiernan told me by phone today. "Something is going on there."

A clinical trial measuring the efficacy of smoked marijuana as a treatment for PTSD has been in the works since 2014, when the Department of Health and Human Services approved MAPS' request to purchase research cannabis from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. NIDA holds a monopoly on legally growing and providing marijuana for research purposes, and a clinical trial is the first step in having whole-plant marijuana moved from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule II, where it can be legally prescribed for therapeutic purposes. (Currently, doctors may recommend marijuana under state laws, but they may not prescribe it under federal law.)

The trial was slated to take place at both the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins, but was briefly delayed when the University of Arizona fired researcher Sue Sisley, allegedly to avoid the wrath of Arizona lawmakers who opposed her work on medical marijuana. In 2016, Sisley announced she would continue her portion of the trial at the Scottsdale Research Institute. Sisley, along with Johns Hopkins professor Ryan Vandrey, would study whether various doses of smoked marijuana could help reduce the symptoms of treatment-resistant PTSD, using a $2 million grant MAPS received from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

While Sisley's work will continue, Vandrey, of the Johns Hopkins Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit, confirmed to me in an email on Monday that his team "has withdrawn its participation in the MAPS study." He referred me to a university spokesperson for additional information. On Tuesday, a university spokesperson released the following statement:

"It is Johns Hopkins' mission to conduct high quality scientific research and save lives. Johns Hopkins elected to withdraw from the MAPS study of cannabis in veterans with PTSD prior to any participant enrollment because our goals for this study weren't in alignment. Johns Hopkins remains dedicated to helping military veterans, finding improved treatments for PTSD, and conducting innovative research to enhance our understanding of both the risks and benefits of cannabis/cannabinoids."

"Johns Hopkins wanted to remain focused on clinical research, and MAPS wanted to focus on the science as well as on the policy issues surrounding the science related to the NIDA monopoly on marijuana for research," Brad Burge, communications director for MAPS, wrote in an email. "We still have an exceptionally strong research team, including the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado, as well as the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix. We think the study will still succeed without Johns Hopkins' involvement, that we'll be able to enroll all the participants we need at the Phoenix site, and that the study will still have sufficient diversity of participant population."

NIDA, a frequent funder of research projects at Hopkins' Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, came under scrutiny earlier this month when PBS published a story revealing that the NIDA-run facility at the University of Mississippi had provided low-quality cannabis to researchers working on the MAPS study. "It didn't resemble cannabis. It didn't smell like cannabis," Sisley told PBS. She also revealed that the samples were infected with mold, and that the potency was not what researchers requested. No one from Johns Hopkins, which has also received cannabis from NIDA, is mentioned in the PBS story.

Kiernan suspects that Hopkins' relationship with NIDA and the recent kerfuffle over the agency's mishandling of marijuana samples played a role in the university's decision to withdraw from the trial. But he's waiting for a full explanation.

"We had a vet call in to Hopkins who wanted to participate in this study," Kiernan says. "He called me, upset, after he got that voice message. What I want Hopkins to tell me is, Why did you back out of this study with a voicemail message? Do you know what veterans are going through?"

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  1. Incidentally, I once watched The Deer Hunter with a couple of drunk Vietnam veterans on Memorial Day.

    That was a bad experiment.

  2. “Terminal detritus I can only remain,” sighed the wrung-out warrior.

  3. No one knows where to get quality weed at the university?

    1. Jesus, in no where Huntington or., u can get 6.00 grams of some decent shut.

  4. Headline Repeated in Subsequent Subhead
    Subhead Repeats Headline but With Reversed Clauses

  5. Why did you back out of this study with a voicemail message? Do you know what veterans are going through?


  6. From Wikipedia:

    Throughout his professional life, William Stewart Halsted (an American surgeon who was one of the “Big Four” founding professors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital), was addicted to cocaine and later also to morphine,which were not illegal during his time. As revealed by his Hopkins colleague Osler’s diary, Halsted developed a high level of drug tolerance for morphine. He was “never able to be reduce the amount to less than three grains daily”.The addictions were a direct result of Halsted’s use of himself as an experimental subject, in investigations on the effects of cocaine as an anesthetic agent.

    1. And the dumb doper died at the young age of 70 and never accomplished a goddamn thing in his short, miserable, pathetic life, either. Just say “No!” kiddies, or you’ll wind up like that sad loser William Stewart Halsted.

      1. Hey! Who did they name the hospital after? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

        *drops mic*

      2. (;-P…………I did not partake while I was out in real private surgical practice. But, it was all around us in residency. But, we had nights when we were not responsible for patients. It was 24/7 after i started practice in the rural US. I felt it would not have been responsible. But, there is more and more information that seems to show little effect on abilities and minimal impairment.

    2. FYI: 1 grain = 65 mg.

  7. Don’t we all know the reason a government-funded institution has suddenly decided studying the potentially beneficial effects of marijuana was a bad idea? (Hint: It ain’t Muslims terrorist attacks but it might be Hitler.)

  8. You mean to tell me that a political institution somewhere made a political decision? This is a bit like the use of fetal tissue for research and how it flips from okay to not okay based on whether Rs or Ds are in the Oval.

  9. This is just a test. Please ignore. Server squirrels suck.

    1. I haven’t had any comments completely disappear today, which is something. They don’t appear for several minutes, but they show up eventually. Yesterday I don’t think I had one that didn’t completely fail on the first try.

  10. Of course NIDA is going to provide shitty weed for and Hopkins will back out of a study that might threaten their big pharma benefactors-you don’t need a prescription for anything that you can grow yourself, so they aren’t interested.

  11. You haven’t posted any of my comments for at least three days now-what’s going on? Does Reason not have any web management staff?

  12. WTF
    A study is not required. People have been smoking weed since before there was weed. We know what it does, how it does it, and how much to use for any given level of pain or stress. (or fun) All that is required is for the feds to acknowledge proved science and remove the illegal drug classification. Maybe follow the constitution and leave it up to the states.
    So send me a million dollars for my study results.

    1. Absolutely.

      Insofar as you want to smoke weed, the Feds have no business telling you otherwise.

      Insofar as you are a veteran, and want the VA to give you weed to treat your PTSD…

  13. Kind of surprised they ever participated in this study. Seeing as how smoked marijuana is to medicine as rusty nails are to accupuncture.

    Put more scientifically, the risks of chronic inhalation of the byproducts of combustion are well known, while any benefits are merely presumed.

    If the inhalational route is thought to be part of the mechanism of action then they should be vaping or otherwise using a nebulized extract.

    1. Seeing as how smoked marijuana is to medicine as rusty nails are to accupuncture.


      1. Hardly nonsense. Smoked anything simply will not pass muster as medicine – on safety alone.

        1. Yeah, you are probably right. Maybe people should just be allowed to make their own choices.

          Inhaling pot smoke or vapor is a lot faster acting that eating it, so some kind of vaporized/nebulized means of consuming it probably has benefits, especially for psychological things like PTSD and anxiety.

    2. Yes, the risk of chronic inhalation are well know for marijuana – and they are neglible. Because people don’t smoke a pack of joints a day so the dosing is small enough that there’s no noticeable danger – unlike cigarettes where 5 a day is a *light* smoker*.

  14. comment systems sucks balls

  15. Get it straight already, will ya? A prescription is a recommendation. A recommendation is a prescription. Doctors and everyone else are already allowed to prescribe marijuana or anything else. It’s part of that freedom of speech thing. The only issue is in filling the prescription, i.e. dispensing cannabis, not in whether one may tell someone to get cannabis.

  16. Get it straight already, will ya? A prescription is a recommendation. A recommendation is a prescription. Doctors and everyone else are already allowed to prescribe marijuana or anything else. It’s part of that freedom of speech thing. The only issue is in filling the prescription, i.e. dispensing cannabis, not in whether one may tell someone to get cannabis.

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