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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Weed 3. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired April 20, 2015 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:11] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You're watching a growing revolution. For two years, we reported from the front lines of a battle between those who say marijuana save them.
CHRISTINE KIERNAN, WIFE OF SEAN KIERNAN: My children and I have my husband and father with us.
GUPTA: The doctors who want to prove it.
DR. SUE SISLEY, PSYCHIATRIST: We have the demand that this plant be allowed to go through the drug development process of the FDA.
GUPTA: And federal agencies that have stood away.
RICK DOBLIN, RESEARCHER: That was extremely demoralizing to me.
GUPTA: At stake, the ability to use marijuana has a regulated prescription drug. Some say it's the only thing that works. A veteran and a stay at home mom suffering from PTSD, a painter with chronic pain, a truck driver with Alzheimer's. We are in the mist of a marijuana revolution. Scientist are poise to prove marijuana can change lives.
STACEY GRUBER: This is high times in marijuana research, it really is.
GUPTA: And for elective leaders as well.
CORY BOOKER, (D) SENATOR, NEW JERSEY: This bill that we are introducing...
GUPTA: The tide maybe finally turning.
BOOKER: Our drug lost in this country is a whole, need a revolution of common sense and compassion.
GUPTA: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This is Weed 3, the Marijuana Revolution.
C. KIERNAN: I just went everyday in sat by the bedside and I told me that he wake up the next day and he did wake up the next day and he did -- he was five days in intensive care. I held the (inaudible) over his bedside. It was very difficult, very difficult time. I don't like to even like go there.
GUPTA: Christine Kiernan doesn't want to go back to that day in 2011 when her husband Sean overdose on prescription drugs.
C. KIERNAN: It was the most terrible and horrifying thing I ever been through.
GUPTA: Did you want to die?
SEAN KIERNAN, U.S. VETERAN: I want -- I won't say that I just wanted to end at that second. It was a, I wanted to end, I want it to stop.
GUPTA: Sean Kiernan wanted it to end because the drugs he hope would save him were killing him.
S. KIERNAN: I couldn't stick of anyone and I just want it to end. So I did something that, thank God, it wasn't permanent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get up.
GUPTA: 22 United States veterans kill themselves everyday. Sean was almost one of them. Like many vets, he was diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder also called PTS. For Sean it was the U.S. army, the jungles of Panama. He saw too much after the U.S. invasion when riots, ambushes and casualties were regularly occurrence.
S. KIERNAN: There's this sad times, you know, losing friends and people who you serve with and you start to question everything.
GUPTA: Questions that lingered when he got home. Despite having a beautiful wife whom he love very much, four kids, a lucrative of career in banking, Sean's life was full of darkest. He was prescribed dozens of different medications to help he's sleep to decreases his anxiety, to try encourage his depression, but none made it better. Most, made it worse.
SISLEY: We can imagine how awful this situation is for vet. How you've overcome the symptoms and how did you...
GUPTA: Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist has been treating veterans with posttraumatic stress for decades.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Welcome home.
SISLEY: There's this huge constellation of symptoms, everything from insomnia to anxiety to, you know, flashbacks. And each one of those target symptoms generally would receive another prescription. They end up getting stock on eight, 10 or 12 different medications and suddenly they're like zombies. There just a few meds on the market that work even those are really inadequate.
GUPTA: But there is one medication that holds a lot of promise.
DOBLIN: Marijuana is excellent for PTSD.
GUPTA: Rick Doblin is a researcher and also has a doctorate from Harvard. He's been trying to study marijuana for decades. DOBLIN: One of those surprising things about marijuana is that it suppresses dream recall. For people that are traumatize and have nightmares, the opportunity to have a god night sleep without remembering their nightmares can be fundamentally transform enough. Also marijuana tends to focus peoples attention on the hearing now.
[21:05:03] And that's also really important for people that are hearing the trauma from the past into the present.
GUPTA: If all of that was true, it sounded like marijuana could be an ideal treatment for PTSD. And understandably there are many skeptics. Dr. Sue Sisley was one of them.
SISLEY: I was really stoned when more and more patients were coming out of the shadows and disclosing to me that they were having some, you know, useful experiences with this marijuana plant. When you use marijuana, what happens to the PTSD?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They relax me. They help with my muscles spasms and my pains and they make me sleepy, so they help me when I'm getting closer to bedtime.
GUPTA: But Dr. Sue Sisley would need more than just stories, she need a scientific prove that marijuana eases PTSD. She wanted to study this plant like you would any other medication.
SISLEY: We have a duty as medical professionals to demand that this plant be allowed to go through the proper drug development process of the FDA.
GUPTA: So Dr. Sue Sisley, the skeptic and Rick Doblin the believer joint forces and started their crusade into 2009.
DOBLIN: That's what we're hearing from most of these vets, they really want two different kinds.
GUPTA: Their goal to investigate the simple but profoundly important question, could marijuana help save veterans like Sean Kiernan?
SISLEY: The veterans are saying they want an activating strain for the morning and then they want a sedating day strain at night.
GUPTA: Problem is, they first applied to the federal government for approval in 2010 and were rejected. Then again in 2012, but were delayed for years by government bureaucracy.
DOBLIN: That was extremely demoralizing to me, it was just frustrating.
DOUGLAS THROCKMORTON, FDA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I can understand some concerns about inefficiency and some cumbersomeness.
GUPTA: FDA Deputy Director, Douglas Throckmorton.
THROCKMORTON: For marijuana three agencies are involve in making sure that your available to get the marijuana and enable to conduct a trial.
GUPTA: He's talking about the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And if you're privately bonded kind of the study like Sisley and Doblin's, you also have to get the approval of the United State Public Health Service. It's a lot of government red tape and it's an issue that we reported on in our earlier documentaries, Weed.
It was a schedule one control substance the government was saying it had no medicinal value.
DR. ORRIN DEVINSKY: We're being hand cuffed by the government preventing us from doing the right trials.
GUPTA: That's from Weed 2, Cannabis Madness. Rick Doblin believes the right people were watching because just four days after documentary aired...
DOBLIN: I got this letter saying that they have approved the study. It was fantastic. I mean, I was related.
GUPTA: How big a deal was that? Some have called that a watershed moment in marijuana research.
DOBLIN: Yeah, I believe that and not because of some reevaluation of the risks and benefits of marijuana, it was because of changes in public perception.
GUPTA: For years, decades really, there's been hardly any United States research into the benefits of medical marijuana. On the contrary most of the research focused on a harmful effects of the plant. Now, nearly five decades after it was deemed illegal, we are seeing history unfolded. The beginnings of a marijuana revolution.
THROCKMORTON: FDA's official position is we want that drugs studied. We want marijuana studied to decide it's safety, it's efficacy, it's reliability and we want have that done as quickly as we possibly can.
GUPTA: That's music to the ears of veterans like Sean Kiernan, who had to be convinced that marijuana could be the right option for him.
S. KIERNAN: I talk to some people who aren't the stereotypical, you know, persons who smoke marijuana. They were highly successful, how they motivated people.
GUPTA: He was once suicidal, but Sean now has hope. Hope that comes from this plant. And from that new study, which might prove its benefit once and for all. When we come back, first step, getting their hands on the precise strains of research grade marijuana, it would prove harder than Sisley and Doblin could have imagined.
GUPTA: Oxford, Mississippi, the middle of the campus of Ole Miss. This was our first visit here, two years ago, spring 2013.
MAHMOUD ELSOHLY, DIRECTOR THE MARIJUANA PROJECT: I can't remember the last time we actually grow more than an acre
GUPTA: Since the 1970s, this field has been the only place in the United States where scientists can get marijuana to dispense and research. The reason, to control the quality and distribution all the way from the soil to the study.
This is the place where the marijuana has grown for federal research and there is nothing in the fields. And there hasn't been for six years, you say.
ELSOHLY: That's correct. The last time we grew was 2007.
GUPTA: Mahmoud ElSohly, he is the farm's director.
ELSOHLY: We are not growing because there is not much demand or the material that we already have.
GUPTA: Why isn't there more demand? I mean, this is something that...
ELSOHLY: No research protocols. No research proposals. No requirement for the material.
GUPTA: But that was then. This is now. Nearly two years later, there was acre upon acre of marijuana.
I ever wonder what a revolution looks like, a lush field of green for scientists. Scientists like Rick Doblin and Sue Sisley, who hope to get research grade marijuana from these fields for the first ever federally approved clinical study to see if marijuana can treat the symptoms of PTSD.
I had to say, I'm kind of stunned because, I mean, I think we were standing pretty much in the same spot and there was nothing here.
ELSOHLY: Exactly. Yeah.
GUPTA: A year and a half ago.
GUPTA: Are as surprised as I am?
ELSOHLY: To be honest with you, yes.
GUPTA: In the last year alone, the federal government has increased their production of pot by 30 fold, from just 46 pounds to 1,400 pounds.
[21:15:08] The government anticipates studies on everything from cancer, to pain, to epilepsy and they want to have the marijuana ready to push science forward.
DR. NORA VOLKOW, DIRECTOR OF THE NATONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE: Now, I will give the marijuana and if we don't have it, we'll have to grow it. GUPTA: Dr. Nora Volkow is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They are the agency in charge of the field and responsible for dispensing marijuana for government approved research.
VOLKOW: We try to anticipate what researchers are going to need and so we cut based on that, expanded our production.
GUPTA: Production of plants high in THC, the psychoactive part, plants high in CBD, the therapeutic part. And plants that are a combination of both. But one of the precise strains, the precise dose that Doblin insist he need, one that they believe might help save Sean Kiernan, is not here yet.
As part of our investigation, we learned, that particular strain is available to mother growers in United States. But those farms cannot provide it for this federally approved study.
Doblin and Sisley will have to wait for the grow at Ole Miss.
GUPTA: When Rick Doblin got his study approved back in March, there were specific strains as you know that wanted this.
GUPTA: Did you have the strains for him at that time?
ELSOHLY: No, if I had, I would have delivered. We have to develop this stage. We have to good variety material, the right composition, and then you have a propagate it and produce that final product.
GUPTA: And all of that takes time, causing potentially deadly delays.
DOBLIN: Our focus has to be what's best for the patients. How do we get this available to the patients? Many of them are committing suicide because of PTSD.
GUPTA: While Rick Doblin waits for his candidates to be grown.
DONALD ABRAMS: Let me just have a quick listen to your breathing.
GUPTA: This man doesn't have to. Ole Miss already had the strain that oncologist Dr. Donald Abrams needed for his newer study.
ABRAMS: So remember, this is a two part experiment.
GUPTA: And what he is doing is yet another sign of the revolution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You put a pill medical candidate.
GUPTA: It's something we first saw on Israel two years ago.
Filling up this (inaudible). So that's your medicine inside there.
And never thought we'd see in United States. A patient using marijuana, like this in a hospital room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unique. It's different. I never thought I would be smoking weed in the hospital.
GUPTA: This is San Francisco General, an academic teaching hospital that because of Dr. Abrams, has a stash of marijuana in their pharmacy. It stored next to all the other medications.
And Abrams is using it to see if they can relief chronic pain in patients with rare blood disorder.
Janelle Ashows (ph) is a painter. She was also born with sickle cell anemia and has been in pain for as long as she can remember.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can exhale now.
GUPTA: She says marijuana makes her nearly pain free.
How long after you smoke then you start to have some sort relief of your pain?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Instantly. It's like instantly.
GUPTA: Within minutes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm like -- yeah, couple minutes afterwards, you feel the relief of pain.
GUPTA: Janelle's in the study because she wants to know for sure, is marijuana safer and more effective than powerful pain killers in narcotics?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well marijuana, even though I maybe buzz, I can interact with life more so than with pills.
GUPTA: Treating pain is the most common use for medical marijuana. It maybe the anti-inflammatory effects or even the dulling of pain receptors. Regardless, the study could prove to mainstream medicine what millions of medical marijuana patients already believed that a plant maybe a better pain treatment than the powerful pills that are most commonly prescribed.
Do we ever get to a point where we say, "Look, it's a medicine, like so many other medicines out there."
ABRAMS: I was just going to tell you, I always use to say not in my lifetime, but now I'm becoming a little more cautious because who knows. Let's just wait and see.
GUPTA: Wait and see, that's been a mantra for decades when it comes to pot. But for Rick Doblin in his veterans, the time for waiting is over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The UAV Assistant Professor now believes that...
GUPTA: And yet they are about to be faced with shocking news that could put a whole PTSD study in jeopardy.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the University of Arizona research are making national news for study up marijuana and its impacts on veterans with PTSD.
GUPTA: As the sun rises in Phoenix, a battle is heating up at the University of Arizona. June 27, 2014, nearly four months after the revolutionary PTSD in marijuana study was approved.
SISLEY: H.R. notified me just a little before 5:00 on a Friday.
GUPTA: The University of Arizona has fired Dr. Sue Sisley.
SISLEY: I was stunned because they stripped me of all of my work.
GUPTA: Her work studying medical marijuana.
SISLEY: It's so disheartening for all these veterans who stood shoulder to shoulder with me as...
GUPTA: Her termination became national news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Veterans are demanding that Sue Sisley be allowed to continue her work.
GUPTA: First of it's kind of top study is now in a major snag.
A snag because without a job, Sisley's historic study is without a home.
Let me ask about what's going on right now.
I spoke to her soon after her dismissal.
What do you think is happening?
SISLEY: I think Arizona Legislature is dominated by several very extreme bankers who were opposed to this type of research, even though this is an FDA approved study. It's a randomized controlled trial, the most rigorous science we can conduct in the U.S.
[21:25:00] CHRIS SIGURDSON, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA SPOKESMAN: I can say that the University of Arizona is not buying to political pressure either on research or any employee.
GUPTA: Chris Sigurdson is the spokesman for the University of Arizona. He insists, Dr. Sisley's termination had nothing to do with marijuana research.
What did you think when you heard that news?
GUPTA: Sean Kiernan is angry, because he knows what's at stake, the lives of thousands of veterans every year.
How important are those scientific studies to you? S. KIERNAN: It makes me speechless, which is something that doesn't happen a lot that as a society, as a University, as Arizona is, as a country that says we love our vets. We have 22 veterans killing themselves a day.
GUPTA: Sean is particular certain marijuana could have saved some of those lives, because in some ways it is already saved him. After his drug overdose in 2011, he turned to cannabis as his last resort. And now, he vaporizes with it everyday.
S. KIERNAN: That's it.
GUPTA: The symptoms of PTSD, the anger, the irritability. When you take this, how does it make you feel? How does it address those symptoms?
S. KIERNEN: It allows your brain to get back into a more healthy normal pattern of behavior versus just (inaudible) worse and worse how to control it.
GUPTA: Here's how scientists think cannabis can work. People with PTSD have an imbalanced in their brain. Too many receptors associated with intensive motions like fear and anxiety and not enough of the chemical that binds to these anxiety receptors to keep them calm and then check.
Marijuana is filled with the chemical that can bind to these receptors and help restore balance to the PTSD brain. A balance that is helping Sean Kiernan turned his life around.
C. KIERNAN: We really came to the conclusion that it was really the medicine for him.
GUPTA: It seems very effective.
C. KIERNAN: It does him very effective.
GUPTA: But for Sean, its trial and error. How much to use? When to use? Or even the best strains. And how would it will affect him long-term? That's why these studies are needed.
How much does it to concern you that there's not a lot of science behind this, that there hasn't early been studied, at least not in this country?
C. KIERNAN: If he wasn't doing this, a fear is he wouldn't be here. So if there are some side effects that we're going to have to deal with down the road, that haven't been studied yet, I figure we'll take that when it comes, but for now, the children and I have my husband and father with us.
S. KIERNAN: I want to get two things. One is like when I have morning anxiety that...
GUPTA: Sean is lucky. Cannabis is a legal treatment for PTSD in California. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would recommend like a Bubba Kush for you during the day, so you can actually still do things and function.
S. KIERNAN: Yes
GUPTA: And he has enough money to buy his marijuana. It's not covered by insurance. But so many other veterans simply don't have that option. And the Veterans Administration Hospitals cannot prescribe medical marijuana because it is illegal, federally, a schedule one controlled substance.
None of that is likely to change until research like Sisley's proves that cannabis is an effective, tested, mainstream medication.
So to help other veterans, Sean is out front.
S. KIERNAN: The administrator of (inaudible). And then a letter from (inaudible).
GUPTA: Protesting and fighting to get the PTSD study back on track.
SISLEY: I am going to find a home for this work, whether it's of the U of A or not. I feel such a deep sense of obligation to these veterans into making this research happened.
GUPTA: So Sue Sisley is about to take a big gamble.
SISLEY: This is amazing.
GUPTA: The chances, when we come back.
GUPTA: Here in Las Vegas, medical marijuana is still a gamble but also a potential jackpot for Dr. Sue Sisley.
SISLEY: They've been courting us since the day my termination was announced.
GUPTA: The future of her study hinges on finding a research site like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
SISLEY: Without having a specific office you can't even get a DEA license, without DEA schedule one license I can't purchase neither study drug.
GUPTA: Las Vegas would be ideal. Progressive politics, a budding medical marijuana community and lots of veterans. Veterans who are fighting a battle on the home front and losing. Sean Kiernan knows their pain.
When you see these younger soldiers coming back now, how worried are you about them?
S. KIERNAN: Heartbroken, really. The stories I've heard and stories I've seen first hand from the medication, medicine that these kids are being put on, that's addicting them to opioids.
GUPTA: It senseless really, especially when you consider that a simple plant could save them and the scientific study could prove it. So Sisley, soldiers on hoping the Vegas odds are with her. And while she waits, nearly 3,000 miles away in Boston another study, another seed of the revolution is just getting planted.
GRUBER: That's the most exciting time I can think off really for marijuana research. This is high times in marijuana research, it really is. What I need you to do as identify the number that's different, OK?
GUPTA: Harvard University's Dr. Stacey Gruber has been researching marijuana to early 1990's. They call her the pot doc. We first met her two years ago when she was researching the possible damage of recreational marijuana to the brain. Now she's also set her sights on the possible benefits of medical marijuana.
Massachusetts as it turns out is the perfect sort of place for the study, because they just legalized medical marijuana.
[21:35:04] Gruber's goal is to study new patients who have never use cannabis.
GRUBER: Our goal was to look at this folks before they started using medical marijuana and then three months in, six months in, in a year. Primarily to look at frontal executive functions, because that's really the big question.
GUPTA: That question how does medical marijuana impact brain function longer term.
GRUBER: All I want you to do is name the blocks of color for me as quickly...
GUPTA: Before and after they start medicating patients will take cognitive test.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Green, red, blue, blue, green, red.
GUPTA: And here's what revolutionary, they're going to have their brain scan to chart the change. For the first time we will see what your brain looks like on weed.
In here, we have the country now has medical marijuana laws on the books.
GUPTA: This is happening. And yet one of the most fundamental questions remains unanswered.
GUPTA: That's a (inaudible) idea.
GRUBER: I'd like to see what it looks like from beginning to the end.
GUPTA: Amelia Taylor she wants to know as well. 34 years old mother of three. She lives in the suburb of Boston.
AMELIA TAYLOR, MEDICAL MARIJUANA USER: I just pour a little bit in like that.
GUPTA: Amelia is also a daily user of marijuana. Surprised? So are we.
How long would that last you then?
TAYLOR: That would be my, my dose for the day.
GUPTA: She's been using this plant for relief. You see, Amelia like Sean Kiernan has PTSD. In her case she was a first hand witness to an attempted murder of a close friend.
TAYLOR: I thought like I couldn't breath, I felt panic. I felt -- is very afraid.
GUPTA: You didn't expect that you have that sort of reaction to it?
TAYLOR: Oh no, no.
GUPTA: A reaction that turns her into a hermit. Sheltered in her house, her bed absent from her life as a wife and a mother.
TAYLOR: I felt like my mind was being held hostage.
GUPTA: Were use suicidal.
TAYLOR: I can't say I didn't feel that way.
GUPTA: Like so many we've heard from before, the potent drug prescribed for her didn't help.
TAYLOR: That's how I came across the cannabis because I thought, like I tried so many things to know avail.
GUPTA: Church raised and home schooled. Amelia was taught that marijuana was evil.
TAYLOR: What do you have that helps just like during the day for anxiety?
GUPTA: But now she decided it was necessary. She joined Dr. Gruber's study.
GRUBER: OK, so just think what we talked about, we'll do a little of set of scanning...
GUPTA: Knowing they'd monitor her progress and it gave her the confidence to buy and try cannabis for the first time in the fall of 2014. TAYLOR: I felt really relax and really happy. I felt like joyful. It was such a weird experience for me because I just had felt that way in a while.
GUPTA: And it would only get better. Amelia got her life back.
TAYLOR: Come on. Oh you are too quick.
I just notice myself breathing during the day. I thought I wasn't holding my breath. I notice I was less startled. There just be this constant moments of like wow.
GUPTA: And in just a short time, we will take a peek at Amelia's brain to see what cannabis has or has not done and get clues as to why it seems to be helping her PTSD. Clues that Rick Doblin just miles away and another part of Boston, is also determined to find. The precise strain Doblin and Sisley believe could quite and heals the brains of people with PTSD continues to grow. It is late fall and harvest is about to begin.
And so how many of these plants have Rick Doblin's name on it.
ELSOHLY: He has his name on three plus.
GUPTA: But as they're about to learn, starting a revolution can be tough, even if they can get the medical marijuana they still need to get DEA approvals and a final study location because Las Vegas also said no.
DOBLIN: So the next couple of years, we'll provide you...
GUPTA: Their journey is about to has some serious ups and downs. But all eyes on another equally revolutionary study. A study that could impact all of us, could marijuana, the drug associate with the short term memory loss, in fact, save the minds of millions suffering with Alzheimer's?
GUPTA: It may not look like it but Mike Dopson (ph) is trying to save his brain.
MIKE DOPSON (PH): (inaudible) things up for me. A little easier than it was before.
GUPTA: A few years ago, Mike was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Like every other patient, he was told there was no cure, very little treatment and that he would get progressively worst. He became forgetful, yes, but also angry, isolated, disoriented. He would just wonder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know which way to go or what to do or -- it's just being lost (inaudible).
PAULA DOPSON (PH): He was very depressed, really down.
In that one sweetie.
GUPTA: Paula Dopson (ph) believes marijuana help improve her husbands life.
P. DOPSON (PH): His memory still iffy, but he laughs, he can communicate. It's like we have the old life back for a while.
GUPTA: Dopson (ph) is part of a population using marijuana to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's, like mood swings, irritability and disorientation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking for more of an (inaudible), before feeling, OK?
GUPTA: And now, researchers think they may have figured out how cannabis might be helping.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the presidential push; that's got about that 20 percent THC.
GUPTA: If they are right, it could mark one of the most significant stories in this whole marijuana revolution. In this portal lab, scientists have discovered that low doses of THC slow down the build up of the sticky proteins which create plaque in the brain, one of the tell tell-tale signs of Alzheimer's.
[21:45:06] CHUANHAI CAO: We discover, low dose had the ability to reduce beta-amyloid production.
GUPTA: Dr. Chuanhai Cao is an assistant professor at the Byrd Alzheimer's Research Institute in Tampa, Florida. His belief, not only is THC safe and effective but that it could be the future for the treatment of Alzheimer's.
CAO: THC is not that risky. It's good because Alzheimer's patient really has no effective drugs.
GUPTA: And it's not just THC that scientist think targets Alzheimer's plaques. They believe marijuana's other active ingredients, the cannabinoids could reduce the overall inflammation in the brain possibly providing benefits to many brain diseases.
We first heard rumblings about this in 2013 when we visited G.W. Pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom.
GEOFFREY GUY, G.W. CHAIRMAN: These flowering pots and the leaves around the flowering pots are coated with 1000s of little balls. They're called (inaudible) and the content is about 67 percent pure cannabinoid.
G.W.'s Chairman, Dr. Geoffrey Guy and many others believe this believed these precious chemicals are in fact neural protectants.
GUY: They will protect brain cells against (inaudible) and injury.
GUPTA: So not damaging but protecting the brain? GUY: When the brain cells is stressed by trauma or other injury.
GUPTA: If you're skeptical, consider this, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an actual financial stake in this exact sort of research. Their patent, number 6630507 covers the use of cannabinoids as neural protectants.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It can protect against further brain damage.
GUPTA: Dr. Mark (inaudible) developed a patent for HHS.
How do you patent something that comes from a plant?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not patent the compound, people are free to use the compound in other ways, subject to loss in other patents. So this is a method of using the compound for developing drugs to treat these types of diseases.
GUPTA: Like a progressive degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. It's caused by repeated brain trauma from multiple confessions or consistent blows to the head.
DEAN PETKANAS, KANNALIFE CEO: Hopefully, we can intervene in the process of late stage neural degeneration and suspend that process from...
GUPTA: Dean Petkanas is the CEO of KannaLife, the company that fought the patent rights. Like Geoffrey Guy and the scientists at HHS, he believes this plant had so much potential. Potential to treat the untreatable, disease that may all be related in the brain, Alzheimer's, CTE and PTSD.
KIERNAN: Let's study it and let's get the data.
GUPTA: Veteran Sean Kiernan, stay at home mom, Amelia Taylor. They are the new faces of PTSD. Successful, smart but suffering and unwilling to accept the fact that so little can be done to combat this invisible disease.
KIERNAN: Where we see promise and treatments, we should pursue those. And really what you should do about this compassionate use for individually.
GUPTA: Compassion that he hopes it can get Sisley and Doblin's PTSD research back on track. Little does he realize that support is about to come from an unlikely alliance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there any centers who meet these patients here...
GUPTA: In all the years, I've been investigating and reporting on medical marijuana, I never expected to see this. We will go there in just a moment.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: December 2014, Dr. Sue Sisley has arrived in the mile high state of Colorado. The Board of Health is granting $9 million from a surplus tax collected on medical marijuana to now study its benefits. Sisley wants some of that money, so she could set up her own research lab.
Sean Kiernan is here as well.
KIERNAN: I'm a survivor of lot of the issues you guys are dealing with, with medical marijuana.
GUPTA: He wants to convince the Board that the PTSD in marijuana study should win.
KIERNAN: I think it's going to hopefully show up many of us that's (inaudible) are really experiencing which is a simple plan, it's around for beyond, it is helping.
GUPTA: And just hour and a half later, a vote.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All those in favor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE/FEMALE: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The motion passes unanimously.
GUPTA: There are signs everywhere of a revolution gaining momentum, mainstream medicine, serious academic scientists previously saw unwilling to dip a toe into the heavily stigmatized world of medical marijuana are now diving in, head first.
DOBLIN: All sorts of people came out of the wood work to try to help us, including V.A. researchers who are experts with marijuana used by vets with PTSD. And also researchers funded by NIDA who are located at Johns Hopkins.
GUPTA: And now one year after the study was approved by the Federal government, the plants are now fully grown. Griming with the chemicals that could hold so much promise, but one question is still nags at Rick Doblin, did it have to take so long?
For decades, researchers have wanted to speed things up by giving a variety of marijuana strains from places other than the University of Mississippi, even taking the government to court, but every time they lost.
Now in the midst of this revolution even that maybe changing. Director of NIDA, Nora Volkow.
VOLKOW: We started that dialogue with DEA. In order for us to advance the science we're going to have to be able to provide very specific marijuana product.
[21:55:00] GRUBER: I think that would be a huge deal.
GUPTA: Dr. Staci Gruber knows what the turning point this would be. GRUBER: Studies that have used marijuana from the government have been very, very helpful, but perhaps somewhat limited especially as called "street product" has gone through the roof in terms of potency and strain type. And I think the closer we get to studying real world scenarios in the lab would better off are going to be.
That was fantastic. We're going to come on in and get you out.
GUPTA: A real world scenario is exactly what Gruber was able to study. She didn't have to get the cannabis from Ole Miss. Patient like Amelia Taylor bought their marijuana from a local dispensary. And now we finally get to see what the impact has been. Her brain on cannabis.
Now remember, she's been using marijuana everyday for three months.
GRUBER: What we see is a very small...
GUPTA: Dr. Gruber found no evidence of impairment to Amelia's brain. There was a change over here, in the anterior cingulate cortex. It's part of the brain responsible for decision making, emotion and empathy, which could all play a role in PTSD.
GRUBER: Very, very compelling and certainly leaves me to want to look much more closely and much more in-depth at this type of process.
GUPTA: Most importantly, Amelia felt better, reporting a 60 percent decrease in anxiety, something never of her previous medications have ever done.
These are exciting results for a research revolution, a revolution that these three senators now want to take to the next level.
BOOKER: This bill that we are introducing seeks to right decades of wrong.
GUPTA: March 2015, Democrats Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand along with Republican Rand Paul have just proposed the most audacious marijuana legislation in a lifetime. If it passes, it would create a fundamental change in the way the United States views and treats marijuana.
BOOKER: Our drug laws in this country, as a whole, need a revolution of common sense and compassion.
GUPTA: For starters, it would use something scientists have been begging for. Reschedule cannabis from Schedule 1 to a much less restrictive Schedule 2 controlled substance.
KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, (D) SENATOR, NEW YORK: What should make the class of drug Schedule 2 you can then research it and find out what are the medical impact and when can you use it, when does it make sense. So that would look necessary here. It's so simple.
GUPTA: The bill would hope mandate more farms to grow research grade marijuana, in a lab greater access to it for those in need, including veterans who would, for the first time, be able to get a prescription from medical marijuana from the V.A. hospitals.
BOOKER: Let's stop the pot hypocrisy. We now have three presidents that have admitted to smoking marijuana. People in public office, all throughout the Senate have said, "Hey, I've smoked marijuana recreationally." How much of a hypocrite do you have to be to say that I broke American laws using pot as a recreational thing and that I'm not going to support this idea, as a medicine for severely sick people that they shouldn't be able to access this drug.
GUPTA: It's an important question, a question that I took to the President of the United States.
There's a bill on the floor of the Senate now proposing that marijuana get reschedule from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2...
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yeah.
GUPTA: ...saying it has no medical benefit to possible medical benefit.
GUPTA: Do you support that?
OBAMA: You know, I think I have to take a look at the details, but I'm on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue.
GUPTA: It is been that message all along throughout our history. Ideology has tramp science often, too often. But every now and then a revolution takes hold. It is guided by those unwilling to give up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to keep the pressure out because the only thing that's get this thing move forward is the pressure.
GUPTA: A revolution that is moved so far in nearly three years when we first met young Charlotte and saw her life transformed with medical marijuana. A government who once fought now supports. A farm once baron (ph) now abandoned. Studies, once forbidden, now underway, trying to provide scientific proof that could change, and yes, even save lives like it did for Sean Kiernan and his family.
You think it helped save him.
C. KIERNAN: I do.
S. KIERNAN: You know, we've walked on those roads together and it's been a process that there's been, by no means (inaudible) their pain was, but we're here today and that's kind of how we looked at and we look it from the perspective of helping any others.
GUPTA: Helping others and changing the world, the marijuana revolution is only just begun.