In the latest victory for parents in favor of medical marijuana, Utah has passed a new state law allowing access to the plant under certain circumstances. Surprisingly, the ultra-conservative Utah State Senate passed the law unanimously. Pleas from the parents of sick children helped sway skeptic lawmakers. Pro-medical marijuana organizations such as the Epilepsy Foundation have applauded the legislation as a step in the right direction.
House Bill 105
The bill, which will take effect on July 1, 2014, calls for the Utah Department of Health to issue registration cards to qualifying parents. The registration card designates the family as “hemp exempt.” The exempt status enables parents to treat their ill children with specially-formulated marijuana extracts, although they will still have to receive a prescription from their doctor. Conservative Governor Gary Herbert, who publicly supported the bill, signed it into law despite some speculation that he would reverse his position later.
House Bill 105 is the latest in a series of new laws nationwide that indicate that attitudes toward marijuana are changing. Twenty states in all have their own medical marijuana laws on the books, and recreational use is now legal for adults in Washington and Colorado. Utah is one of the country’s most conservative states, with its voters consistently favoring conservative candidates. Moreover, a significant portion of its state legislature are members of the Mormon Church. The church is known for its stance against drugs. A first-of-its-kind medical marijuana law like House Bill 105 coming out of the state could be an indication that medical marijuana is gaining mainstream acceptance.
The law was born out of the need for children with severe epilepsy to have access to medications that can bring their severe seizures under control. For some children, traditional medications like Tegretol or Carbatrol simply don’t work. Parents have found themselves packing up their lives and moving to states that would allow them to treat their children with medical marijuana. Some children as young as six years old have been treated by strains that are high in CBD and low in THC.
As the bill passed, Utah state senators gave a standing ovation to six-year-old Charlee and her parents Jeff and Catrina Nelson. Charlee, who suffered hundreds of seizures a day for years, sustained irreparable damage to her brain. Senator Steve Urquhart expressed regret that the bill wasn’t conceived earlier, saying, “We’re thinking this bill is too late for Charlee; she’s in her last days.” Her parents hope that the law will enable others to help their children better cope with the crippling disease. Catrina Nelson said of her daughter’s condition, “They’ve given her weeks to months to live.” Sadly, Charlee passed away just days after House Bill 105 was voted on.
The Nelsons are quick to point out that CBD oil would not have saved their daughter, but they believe that the medicine would have given Charlee more time and a better quality of life. CBD oil, like the medical marijuana strain Charlotte’s Web, is high in cannabidiol and low in THC. Many parents of epileptic children have reported that the substance has drastically reduced the number of seizures their children suffer daily.
Marijuana and Epilepsy
Over 2 million Americans live with epilepsy, and the majority of them can control their disease with traditional medications. As early as 2003, however, authorities had begun hearing reports of marijuana being used to treat severe cases of the disease. A paper by D. W. Gross, MD, in the journal Neurology found that over 20% of patients in the epilepsy centers reviewed had used the drug in the year prior to the study. Many of those users reported a positive impact on the number seizures they suffered. Of the respondents, 24% claimed that they believed that marijuana was an effective therapy for epilepsy in general.
The Epilepsy Foundation stresses that more studies need to be done to determine just how marijuana affects the body. On the other hand, the organization notes the mounting evidence that CBD oil can treat a wide arrange of maladies. The foundation also points to existing epilepsy treatments as examples of established therapies that can have extreme side effects. With legislation such as House Bill 105 becoming more commonplace, there is mounting pressure on the FDA and DEA to justify their views—views which many claim are archaic.