Scutari & Vitale Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana to Treat PTSD Goes to Governor

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari and Joseph F. Vitale to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of debilitating medical conditions that would qualify a patient to receive medical marijuana under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was approved today by the Senate.

“Millions of people in this country suffer with PTSD, including many military veterans. Extending access to those in New Jersey with this condition can help to ease the pain these individuals experience,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We know that individuals with PTSD are using marijuana that they are getting from the streets. By doing so, they are at risk of purchasing a substance that may be laced with a dangerous additive and of getting a criminal charge.”

“We have heard from military veterans who are desperate for help to address their symptoms of PTSD, and through testimony before the Legislature have confirmed that marijuana is an effective treatment,” said Senator Vitale, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Including PTSD as a qualifying condition is the right thing to do to, and it’s the compassionate thing to do for those that are seeking assistance.”

Sponsored by Senator Scutari, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law in 2010, authorizing individuals with certain debilitating medical conditions to receive medical marijuana. The current law limits use to individuals suffering from seizure disorder, including epilepsy, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, and glaucoma. The Department of Health commissioner is authorized to update the list of qualifying conditions but has not yet acted to include PTSD. This bill (S-2345) would add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions.

PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a traumatic event such as a physical or sexual assault, childhood neglect or physical abuse, a natural disaster, exposure to combat, or other extreme or life-threatening events. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts about the event, emotional distress, physical symptoms, feelings of numbness or detachment, engaging in dangerous or self-destructive behavior, and experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Currently nine states, of the 23 that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, include PTSD as a qualifying condition.  Independent studies have recommended marijuana as a treatment for PTSD, finding that it worked better to control chronic stressors than prescribed medications without adverse side effects. Some studies have gone so far as to conclude that it should be considered first in the treatment of PTSD.

Approximately 7.7 million American adults suffer with PTSD in a given year. PTSD is especially common among military veterans. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 20 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, up to 10 percent of Gulf War veterans, and up to 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD. The actual numbers are likely higher because PTSD is underreported and often misdiagnosed.

The bill was approved today in the Senate by a vote of 29-9. The Assembly approved it previously by a vote of 56-13-7. It now heads to the governor’s desk.