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Board Rejects PTSD Deletion

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A proposal to eliminate post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis license was rejected Wednesday by a state advisory board after vigorous debate about marijuana’s effectiveness in treating the condition.

Dr. William Ulwelling, an Albuquerque psychiatrist, told members of the state’s medical cannabis advisory board that research has found no evidence that marijuana benefits PTSD patients, and may pose health risks.

“There is no good scientific evidence that marijuana treats PTSD,” Ulwelling told board members. “There is evidence that there is risk involved.”

The board later voted 7-0 to recommend that interim Health Secretary Brad McGrath reject Ulwelling’s petition. McGrath made no final decision Wednesday.

About 8,000 New Mexicans have licenses from the New Mexico Department of Health that allows them to legally purchase medical pot from nonprofit growers, which are also licensed by the agency. PTSD is one of 14 medical conditions that qualifies New Mexicans to obtain a license. About 3,300 New Mexicans used a PTSD diagnosis to qualify for a license.

New Mexico law allows citizens to petition the board to add or delete medical conditions that qualify patients for a medical pot license.

Ulwelling told board members that marijuana may put PTSD patients at heightened risk of “psychotic side-effects” such as flashbacks and paranoia. People with PTSD also have a higher risk of substance abuse problems, said Ulwelling, who said he closed his private practice in 2006.

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after a person experiences a traumatic event.

Ulwelling’s comments drew groans from dozens of supporters of the medical marijuana program who packed the Harold Runnels Auditorium at the New Mexico Department of Health.

“There is not an epidemic of psychosis that Dr. Ulwelling is dangling over our heads,” said Dr. Florian Birkmayer, an Albuquerque psychiatrist who treats PTSD patients.

Medical pot can help control symptoms of PTSD that can lead some people to seek relief from dangerous drugs such as heroin, Birkmayer said. Cannabis can be effective for patients that get no benefit from other treatments, he said.

“People are dying from PTSD,” he said. Birkmayer said he and his patients are alarmed by Ulwelling’s petition. “I came up here for my patients.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal