PHOENIX -- As we prepare to watch nearly 100 medical marijuana dispensaries open across the state, efforts to expand the list of conditions eligible for cannabis keep hitting obstacles.
Dr. Sue Sisley is an advocate for medical marijuana.
"This drug deserves its opportunity to go under the rigors of high-level science," Sisley said.
Sisley wonders if marijuana will ever be fully understood in the medical community. Since it's considered illegal by the federal government, she says it's difficult to do the needed research.
"Is marijuana useful for what conditions? What dosage works the best? What delivery method? Is it better to smoke or vaporize or use edibles? All those things are up in the air and nobody knows how to answer them now," she said.
Last month, the public petitioned the Department of Health Services to add migraines, PTSD, anxiety and depression to the list of diagnoses eligible for medical marijuana. All were turned down.
"The research isn't there to say whether marijuana is beneficial or harmful when it comes to the petitioned debilitating medical conditions," explained Health Director Will Humble.
Humble, who shot down the additional conditions, maintains without clinical trials or observational studies, he can't in good conscience expand our list.
"I just can't make that leap to say, well, because the data is lacking and it's difficult to do studies, I'm going to add it anyway in hopes that it's beneficial," he said.
Sisley maintains, "There is a tremendous amount of anecdotal experience, some published, some not, that suggests that this is a very useful intervention for patients."
Both opponents and supporters seem to agree more scientific research is needed. But will it ever happen? Humble contends, "It makes it difficult to do studies on drugs that are schedule one. Not impossible but difficult."
"The clinical trials that he's demanding from this community, randomized controlled trials, high-level observational studies, those studies don't happen for free," Sisley said. "They're very expensive."
Arizona's medical marijuana surplus fund has $5 million. But it's off limits.
"If I wanted to I still couldn't do it because the act requires that it be used to administer the act, doesn't talk about research," Humble said.
It's a frustration for doctors who see more potential benefits of cannabis.
"I don't know any members of the public that are satisfied with the fact that science is being shackled by politics," Sisley said.
Sleep disorders and skin conditions are the latest two diagnoses being petitioned to add to the list. A ruling on those aren't expected until January.
For all the latest information about medical marijuana visit www.azdhs.gov. To contact Dr. Sue Sisley with the Arizona Telemedicine Program visit www.telemedicine.arizona.edu or email firstname.lastname@example.org.