PHOENIX -- Arizona's top health official said Wednesday that people authorized to use medical marijuana may soon begin using the drug to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, if a physician recommends it.
The decision by state Department of Health Services Director Will Humble will allow PTSD sufferers, beginning Jan. 1, to use cannabis for palliative care -- but not as a primary treatment for the disorder.
Arizona's medical marijuana law provides two ways patients can use medical marijuana: to treat specific medical conditions or for palliative care -- to make life more comfortable for those suffering from medical ailments.
The decision is a big win for medical marijuana advocates, many whom have long said cannabis is effective in treating PTSD.
In announcing his decision, Humble cited a recent study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs that provides evidence that marijuana may be helpful in the palliative care of PTSD in some patients.
"Today I issued a Director's Decision that will authorize the use of marijuana ... for patients that are currently undergoing conventional treatment for a diagnosis of PTSD," Humble wrote in a blog post to be published Wednesday on the health department's website. "Physician certifications would be valid only for the palliative care of PTSD symptoms (not treatment). Certifying physicians will be required to attest that they have reviewed evidence documenting that the patient is currently undergoing conventional treatment for PTSD before signing the medical marijuana certification."
The new policy won't take effect until Jan. 1 in order to give health officials and dispensaries time to develop policies and procedures and educational materials, as required by the rules.
Arizona joins nine states that allow medical marijuana for PTSD, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Michigan and Nevada, says Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. O'Keefe said there is a growing movement by states with medical-marijuana laws to allow those suffering from PTSD to use medical marijuana because it is seen as an effective treatment.
Humble's decision comes after an administrative law judge last month recommended state officials allow those with PTSD to use medical marijuana, reversing an earlier decision by Humble.
In the past, Humble has said there was insufficient research on marijuana's effects on PTSD.
Since the inception of the state's medical-marijuana program, veterans and medical-marijuana advocates have pushed state health officials to allow PTSD to qualify as a condition. Some veterans have told The Arizona Republic that the drug regimes their doctors have put them on are ineffective and have damaged their organs.