The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

71° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Veterans, medical researchers outraged at firing of UA marijuana researcher


Screenshot by Rebecca Marie Sasnett / Arizona Summer Wildcat: After Dr. Sue Sisley’s termination from the UA, veterans started a Facebook page to support her return to the UA. The Facebook page, as of Tuesday afternoon, has more than 5,000 likes.

In the weeks following Dr. Sue Sisley’s dismissal, the marijuana researcher’s unexpected termination at the UA has gained national media coverage and triggered a backlash against UA administration.

Sisley worked as a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and researcher at the UA for eight years. She spent years designing and gaining approval to conduct a study that would look at the use of marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. However, the study garnered negative attention from Arizona legislators who stonewalled additional funding for the project and which, Sisley said, resulted in her termination from the UA.

Sisley, who was in Atlanta on Thursday being interviewed by CNN, said the support she is experiencing is both stunning and heartwarming. Since being notified on June 27 that her contract would not be renewed, Sisley said she has received countless correspondences from fellow medical researchers and military veterans expressing their condolences and support.

“[Medical researchers] have just been expressing their outrage,” Sisley said. “They see this as a huge blow to academic freedom.”

Sisley said that she is taking legal action in order to renegotiate her contract with the UA. The UA administration refused her a hearing and would not communicate with her, she said.

If given the opportunity, Sisley said she would return to the UA to conduct her study and holds no resentment towards her alma mater.

“I am completely devoted to the UA,” Sisley said. “I love the university and that has not changed despite the short-sighted, negligent decisions of a couple of administrators.”

Sisley said she simply wants to return to the UA in order to avoid further delays in her study. Her main goal is to help veterans struggling with PTSD find a less-harmful treatment for the disorder. The current treatments are a cocktail of pharmaceuticals, which often have negative side-effects, Sisley said.

Sean Kiernan, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1990 to 1993, suffered from PTSD and the corresponding treatments for years. After a prescription mood-stabilizer resulted in a suicide attempt, Kiernan sought an alternative treatment recommended by a friend in the medical field. He began using marijuana to treat the symptoms of PTSD and got his life back, he said.

“I didn’t have all the negative side effects,” Kiernan said. “I didn’t feel like a zombie, I didn’t feel sick, I didn’t feel medicated and unresponsive. It was something I could take in the morning … and I could survive.”

Kiernan said he is disappointed with the UA’s decision to fire Sisley. In a study conducted between 2007 and 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Kiernan believes that this suicide rate is related to symptoms of PTSD and some could be prevented by the use of medical marijuana. The dismissal of Sisley sends a clear message to veterans that their health is not the priority of the UA, he said.

“It’s infuriating, as a soldier who’s seen people die, and seen my friends die, to see them die even today, long after they’ve left the military, because their mental wounds … aren’t being addressed,” Kiernan said.

Sisley said she has had correspondences with medical researchers who work internationally and are shocked at the opposition she has faced from the UA administration and some Arizona legislators. Medical marijuana studies on PTSD have been conducted in numerous countries and is already recognized as a valid treatment internationally in places like Israel, she said.

Both Sisley and Kiernan believe that part of the controversy surrounding Sisley’s study is the use of whole-plant marijuana. Drug manufacturers want to be able to synthesize the effects of marijuana in a pharmaceutical drug in order to patent it and own the exclusive rights, Sisley said, so whole-plant marijuana studies don’t ensure drug companies a profit.

The UA has remained quiet amid the media firestorm surrounding Sisley’s termination, saying that it does not discuss personnel issues with the public in accordance with Arizona Board of Regents policy.

Kiernan said he and other veterans do not plan on giving up on the fight for the study any time soon.

“The UA may be willing to sacrifice our veterans, but I am not,” Sisley said.

More to Discover
Activate Search