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Why Did America’s Only Pot Researcher Suddenly Get Fired?

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Dr. Sue SisleyIn April 2014, University of Arizona assistant professor Dr. Sue Sisley made headlines after winning federal approval to test marijuana on veterans suffering from PTSD. That made her the only academic in America to get a government go-ahead for cannabis research—and one of just 15 people to get such approval in the last two decades. The occasion hailed not only as a historic shift in public policy for the marijuana community but a huge victory for the 21.2 million veterans living in the U.S. today.

Three months later, it’s turned to defeat.  

Terminated from the University of Arizona last week, Sisley is now both jobless and moneyless—stripped of the institution, people, and funding on which her study hinged. America’s only federal-approved academic marijuana researcher just got the floor pulled out from under her.

Who is to blame?

The first time Dr. Sisley listened to a veteran with PTSD describe self-medicating with weed, she ignored him. A lifelong conservative, her perception of marijuana was reduced to stoners getting high for fun. “[My patients] wouldn’t even talk about it with me—they knew I would disapprove,” she tells me.

But the stories didn’t stop. Recurring nightmares, insomnia, loss of interest, anger, sadness, and irritability—the hallmark symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—were paralyzing her patients. The medicine wasn’t working. Zoloft and Paxil, the only two FDA-approved medicines for the condition, left the soldiers feeling numb, dizzy, and in a constant state of fog. Marijuana, many found, was stronger than all of them combined.

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