Medical Cannabis for Kids: A Gateway of Hope
For a parent of a healthy child, it is unimaginable to even have your mind wander into the shadows of “what if’s”: what if your child suffered from devastating epileptic seizures numerous times every day with the intensity of each successive attack becoming more volatile as the day went on? What if you took your child to the doctor for what you believed to be a common and treatable virus and received the news that he has Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)? What if your child had cancer and suffered from the nasty side effects of medications and chemotherapy?
What if I told you that one plant contains in it medicinal properties to make all of these go away?
What if I told you that the pharmaceutical industry stood to lose a huge share in their 2.6 TRILLION DOLLAR industry if marijuana was legalized nationwide? What if the social stigma of a natural plant prevented your child from obtaining relief? What if your Congressman or Senator wasn’t willing to make a commitment because he or she was afraid of a perceived backlash from their constituents?
A Quick Hit of Neurology:
Marijuana, legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia for medicinal purposes, contains cannabidol (CBD). CBD is the non-psychoactive element in the marijuana plant that contains numerous therapeutic and medicinal properties, including: inhibiting cell growth, inhibiting the growth or spread of tumors – specifically malignant (bad) tumors; anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, anti-spasmodic, antibiotic, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant functions. The CBD found in cannabis appears to calm the electrical brain currents that are responsible for severe epileptic seizures that are normally not inhibited by traditional therapies.
Cannabinoids are a myriad of complex chemical compounds found in the human body that essentially “hijack” the brain’s circuitry and have a tremendous impact on staving off pain, nausea & seizures. It is their job to provide a two-way communication between the recently found cannabinoid receptors in our brains called Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Our ECS regulates many processes in our bodies, including: energy intake, nutrient transport and metabolism storage. Endocannabinoids are naturally indigenous in our bodies and research has revealed that they are effective at regulating immune, nerve and bone functions. In fact endocannabinoids are naturally found in breast milk and help to make the new baby’s immune system strong – one of the reasons why cannabis has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for morning sickness and during childbirth. They also help serve to quiet excessive activity and when our body’s cells became overactive, our brains release them. Once they reach the receptors of our brain, a message is sent to the cell to calm down- it is this balancing system that is the difference in keeping seizures from happening in healthy brains. Cannabinoids may also be effective in neurological function by shrinking the area of the brain affected by a stroke; most likely the reason why the US Government sought a patent in 2001 for the use of CBD as a brain protector during a stroke.
From “Reefer Madness” to “Charlotte’s Web”:
Those of us who (are lucky enough to) remember the 1980s, will remember First Lady Reagan’s “Say No to Drugs” campaign. Surely, the iconic egg in a frying pan commercial with the solemn announcer’s voice warning “this is your brain. This is your brain on drugs,” still sears somewhere in our memory. I vividly remember sitting through a torturous 7th grade Health class watching the 1936 film “Reefer Madness” – a tragic propagandized movie about the ill fate of a couple who deal reefer (marijuana) and their young customers, whose lives become replete with murder and mayhem that destroy their collective futures after smoking a joint. The movie itself was just plain awful, but I remember laughing at the absurdity of it.
In the same way that alcohol was attacked by Prohibition, so too was the use of marijuana vilified in the early 20th century. By 1937, Congress had passed the Marijuana Tax Act – a bill that levied commercial sales of marijuana – and every state in the union had a law that criminalized its use and possession.
It is probably safe to assume that the Vietnam era of the late 1960s & early 1970s ushered in a new approval of the green budded plant that earlier American generations had warned against. At the same time, other hallucinogenic drugs were being introduced to urban America – leading many researchers of the 1980s to declare that marijuana was a “gateway” drug (a drug that when used, had the propensity to open the user up to other harder drugs). In 1999, The United States National Academy of Sciences conducted a study investigating the medicinal benefits of cannabis which helped to start the dialogue on the taboo subject – yet nearly a decade and a half later, research still has not come very far. Globally speaking, marijuana has not been as ostracized as it once was and still is in the USA, which makes the research of it very difficult. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug – meaning it is hastily clumped together with other hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and Ecstasy. In order for studies involving marijuana to be done on American soil, researchers need to seek the approval of three federal agencies: the FDA, the DEA and NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse). The FDA has withheld approval on the plant itself, not because of the medicinal benefits, but because there are so many compounds of it. However, the FDA did grant GW Pharmaceuticals, a London based company, approval to investigate treating epilepsy with the CBD found in marijuana along with a clinical trial at New York University. As of late mid-March 2014, the NIDA finally approved sale of its federally sanctioned marijuana to the University of Phoenix for research in marijuana therapy and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Veteran’s Administration estimates that nearly 7.7 million Americans suffer from the disorder which is characterized by flashbacks, causation of anxiety and depression, as well as sleep deprivation.
To dismiss all of the diseases and disorders that cannabis can help to ease would be detrimental. This is just a partial list of the people who can be helped who suffer from the following diseases and disorders: Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Epilepsy, several forms of cancer (including breast and brain), ADHD, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, AIDS/HIV, PTSD, Autism, Type II Diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Neuropathy, Fibromyalgia and Migraines. If you take the population of Americans affected by these diseases and disorders alone, I imagine it would be quite substantial. Then consider the synthetic pharmaceuticals that people are being prescribed for these illnesses. Take into account that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that accidental drug overdoses from prescribed medicines have been steadily rising over the past two decades. In fact, accidental overdoses of these legal prescriptions are THE # 1 CAUSE OF DEATH & INJURY IN THE UNITED STATES – 105 people die and another 6,748 people are treated in Emergency Rooms across this nation EVERY DAY as the result of an unintentional prescription medicine overdose. Did you realize that these same adult medications have and are being prescribed to children? I’m talking about heavy duty painkillers with very nasty side effects, medications with the propensity of becoming addictive. Some common side effects of prescription painkillers include: nausea and vomiting, liver damage, kidney damage, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, osteoporosis, increased risk of infection, risk of addiction, anxiety, sleeping problems, bloating, confusion and headaches. Ask yourself how on earth the Food and Drug Administration could approve a pain pill, Zohydro (which will hit the market this week), which its own Anesthetic & Analgesic Drug Advisory Committee voted against its approval 11-2. The FDA stands firm in its opinion that people who are in serious pain need this medication and will not abuse it, despite a growing chorus of its repeal. Ask yourself if the FDA is willing to introduce a narcotic that contains 10 times the amount of Oxycodone that the commonly prescribed (and abused) Vicodin does, and yet are dragging their feet on a viable solution for children who are also in serious need of immediate relief by simply approving the use of medical marijuana – a medicine of which no one has ever died from using.
The Figi Family in Colorado was living the American dream when their twins, Charlotte and Chase, were born in October 2006. However, by the time Charlotte (affectionately called Charlie) was just 3 months old, life as the Figis knew it came to screeching and heartbreaking halt as Charlie began seizing. Her first seizure lasted 30 minutes. Initial emergency room tests turned up nothing and they were not inclined to label her seizure as epileptic. A week later she had another seizure – which lasted even longer than the first. Eventually, over the next few months, Charlie was seizing more frequently, and the duration of each was lasting up to a couple of hours. After months of unanswered questions and seemingly normal medical test results, one of Charlie’s doctors began to suspect that she suffered from a very rare form of epilepsy known as “Dravet Syndrome” (also known as myoclonic epilepsy of infancy). Dravet Syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that does not respond to traditional anti-seizure medications. The first Dravet Syndrome seizure usually takes place within the first year and in the second year involuntary muscle spasms cause a cluster of seizures that last for at least several minutes. By the time Charlie was just two years old, she was taking 7 medications for Dravet Syndrome, none of which were giving the baby any relief from the violent seizures. The seven medications she was on were heavy-duty and addictive (i.e. barbituates and benzodiapines) and they were all taking their toll on her – both physically and cognitively. At the end of their rope, having exhausted almost all avenues of getting help for their baby girl, the Figis took Charlie to Children’s Hospital in Colorado. That is when a neurologist tested her for a gene mutation commonly found in Dravet Syndrome and two months later Charlie was officially diagnosed. Although they felt relieved that it was confirmed, they were running out of treatment options. They considered a drug from France and even canine epileptic medicine. Charlie was put on a ketogenic diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates that is frequently used in treating epilepsy. While the diet managed to help a little to stave off seizures, new behavioral issues began popping up and Charlie’s immune system plummeted. After two years of the diet, Charlotte’s seizures came back. When Charlotte turned 5, the Figis were given the news by specialists that there was nothing more they could do for their daughter. That is when they began researching medical marijuana, and she became the youngest patient ever to apply. The Figis became increasingly frustrated with doctors who were not willing to approve medical marijuana for Charlie because she was so young, and because research in states had been very limited, they did not know if any long term effects from the cannabis would be an issue later in Charlie’s life. They needed the approval on not one, but two doctors to get Charlotte the help she needed. That’s when the Figis met Dr. Margaret Gedde whom agreed to meet with Charlotte and the family.
Meanwhile, the Stanley Brothers, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, had been cross-breeding cannabis plants, yielding a compound that was low THC and high in CBD concentrates. The six pioneering medical marijuana brothers didn’t know what to do with this crossbred plant though, because nobody wanted to buy it. That’s when the Figis contacted them. Initially they weren’t sure they wanted to be involved because of Charlie’s age but, once they met her, they knew that helping her was something they had to do. The Stanley Brothers took that marijuana that they didn’t know what to do with and Dr. Gedde figured out a dose for Charlie, 3-4 mg per pound of her body weight in cannabis oil. Two doses of oil twice per day in her food have literally stopped Charlotte’s seizures and she’s been seizure-free for nearly a year. The Stanley Brothers named their strain of cannabis “Charlotte’s Web” in honor of the little girl whose parents fought so hard to help get her life back one day at a time. She and 41 other patients now use Charlotte’s Web to ease pain caused by epilepsy and cancer.
In 2009, the Stanley Brothers started a non-profit named “The Realm of Caring Foundation,” which provides cannabis to adults and children who suffer from a host of diseases and who cannot afford treatment. The Brothers run their non-profit on donations from sponsors who believe in their cause, and then ask patients to provide a donation of what they can afford to give. By operating this way, the Stanley Brothers are able to sell their cannabis for pennies on the dollar.
When I was first asked to write an article on this topic, I admit that I wasn’t too sure about how I felt about the subject matter; but the journalistic instinct in me implored me to keep an open mind. I would be remiss if I said it didn’t take long for me to see exactly how much the benefits of medical marijuana outweighed the risk. I visited a NY Compassionate Care support meeting in Buffalo where I heard first hand accounts of the trials and tribulations of people from all walks of life. I saw their tear-streaked cheeks and heard in their voices a mutual pang of agony. I counted my blessings that night for a healthy child. I also counted my blessings that should my daughter ever fall ill, that my husband and I would be able to afford to relocate for any necessary treatment – a luxury that I, admittedly, took for granted when I heard a mother’s story of her two terminally ill children, while they were living paycheck to paycheck. I heard stories from a priest and a pastor, who spoke of those they minister to. I learned the story of Buffalo, NY’s “Charlotte”- her name is Anna Conte and she is just 8 years old. Anna’s family has made the difficult decision to split their family up so she and her mother can move to Colorado for treatment while her father and siblings remain in Buffalo. Is that the value our politicians have on families? As I sat in that room full of angst, hurt and worry, I took into consideration that children are being given adult medications every single day in hospitals across America – medications with serious side effects; medications like morphine and oxycodone. I learned that if a patient is leery of using a prescribed medication because it simply does not work, that patient can be labeled as “non-compliant” which could result in losing insurance coverage for all future prescriptions.
For research in this article, I poured over countless “anecdotal” case studies involving cannabis used in treatment for: cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, migraines, multiple sclerosis, autism, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Type II Diabetes, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, alzheimer’s, dementia, and IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome). As I read the list, I realized that there is someone in my life who at one time or another was affected by almost all of these diseases. Having degrees in both Psychology and Sociology, I am also aware that people will self-medicate – whether it be with the abuse of prescription drugs and/or alcohol, and it’s very difficult to ignore the number of accidental drug overdoses because people were just trying to find relief. I read countless stories about other children who have benefitted from CBD and I have concluded that there really is no reason why it shouldn’t be available to EVERY SINGLE PERSON in this country – despite their age. As Chris Christy (Gov., NJ) said, “…parents should remain empowered to make a choice based on their own reflections, study, and physician consultation.” I have investigated heart wrenching stories about children who have to suffer because there a stigma attached to this little green budded plant, and their parents have to make a tough decision about splitting up their family so the children can move to a state where medical marijuana is legal. It is important to realize that there are several families like Charlotte’s and it’s impossible to spotlight each of them. There are Vietnam Veterans who have long suffered from PTSD who have known for years that marijuana helps to take their infliction away – there are many who are or have been incarcerated because they bought marijuana off the street because it’s the only way they can obtain it.
It’s time to decriminalize cannabis and to recognize its worth is long overdue.
A Gallop Poll done in October 2013 showed that 58% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana; 38% have admitted to trying it and an astounding 82% of New Yorkers support its legalization. A recent NY poll indicates that 88% of New Yorkers would support a Medical Marijuana Bill. Originally opposed to its legalization, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced a plan for medical marijuana by taking Executive Action in January 2014. While the Devil is probably still in the details, he vows to authorize hospitals statewide to prescribe medical marijuana. The “Compassionate Care Act” in New York has repeatedly stalled in that state’s Senate since its first induction in 1997, having passed the state assembly. The problem is time. While NY State Senate sits idly by – there are children and adults who are suffering unnecessarily. They are looking for access to a cure that for now can only be found in a handful of states. They are leaving in mass exodus to the states that are willing to provide treatment of these wicked diseases. In my opinion, it is wrong and it is unconscionable; it is time that the NY Senate acted on the will of its people- that’s what they were elected to do and it’s nearly impossible to ignore that the overwhelming majority that says the time is now. Some people simply do not have the time to wait until a panel of hospital “experts” review each case one-by-one to decide who would qualify for treatment.
The notion of a stigma about marijuana is antiquated and unfounded, and it is an unbearable thought that a politician, who swore to uphold the voice of their constituents, would allow people of any age to suffer any longer – compassion should be a new term that our politicians should like to throw around as much as they do “entitlements.” According to Mr. Webster the definition is: com·pas·sion noun \kəm-ˈpa-shən\ : a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.
Learn it, Albany.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic or if you would like to lend your voice in support of its legislation, please visit www.compassionatecare.org.