The Epilepsy Foundation Embraces Medicinal Marijuana

The following article first appeared in The Hemp Connoisseur Magazine. Find The Hemp Connoisseur on Facebook here.


When Paige Figi first began talking to doctors about using marijuana to treat her daughter’s seizures, she met resistance and skepticism.

Charlotte suffers from Dravet syndrome, a rare and incurable form of epilepsy, and modern medicine could not curb her 1,200 seizures a month. At 5 years old, she was catatonic and heavily medicated yet still suffering 50 grand mal seizures daily.

“I didn’t even think it was going to work. I know my daughter. I know how bad she was, how everything had failed her,” said Figi, of Colorado Springs, who two years ago reached out to marijuana grower Joel Stanley for a strain that is low in THC but high in cannabinoids (CBDs). She also convinced two medical marijuana doctors to make Charlotte the youngest person ever on the state registry. “When I saw how dramatic the results could be, I knew there was something there and this was going to change things,” she said.

And change things it has.

Charlotte’s seizures are down to one or two a month and stories like hers have led hundreds of families to move to Colorado to seek treatment for intractable epilepsy.

Charlotte's story was featured on CNN last autumn as the network's medical expert, Sanjay Gupta, publicly reversed his opinion about medicinal cannabis.

The marijuana strain, which doesn’t intoxicate but has shown an 80 to 90-percent success rate in reducing seizures, is known as “Charlotte’s Web.”

In the latest chapter of Charlotte's story, the medical establishment is beginning to join the chorus of parents calling for an end to marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug, which means the federal government considers it to have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

The Epilepsy Foundation, made up of the nation’s top epileptologists, in February issued a public plea for a change to marijuana’s legal status and an end to restrictions on studying marijuana’s potential health benefits.

The doctors also urged states to change laws to make epilepsy sufferers eligible for medical marijuana, as in Colorado. They also want the federal government to support wide-ranging research on multiple types of marijuana and epilepsy.

The Foundation said that of the 2.3 million Americans with epilepsy, a million live with seizures uncontrolled by medication. “If a patient and their healthcare professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical marijuana for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option now – not in five years or 10 years,” wrote the doctors. “An end to seizures should not be determined by one’s zip code.”

For Paige Figi, who along with some other parents formed Realm of Caring, a nonprofit to help families who move to Colorado for the treatment get adjusted, the Epilepsy Foundation's statement was an important step toward her goal of seeing marijuana rescheduled.

“This is not an addictive substance. It has never killed a person in the history of human use. I don’t think it should have a dangerous schedule,” she said.

The changing attitudes among physicians toward marijuana are bringing it out from the shadows. She said more epileptics and their parents are asking doctors about it and more doctors are willing to prescribe it.

If marijuana is rescheduled or, as Paige wishes, removed from the list altogether, it could be studied without all the restrictions and red tape. Currently, researchers at institutions that get federal funding are afraid to even suggest marijuana studies.

“To have doctors backing this, politically, has to happen first. Brave doctors have to stand up behind this. They can have the courage to say, ‘This really doesn’t belong in the Schedule 1 category,’” she said.

And she hopes President Barack Obama takes notice.

“I think Obama will do the right thing. He’s a dad,” she said. “These children that I’m talking about here, these pediatric epilepsy patients … who have nothing left, I don’t think anyone who is a parent would not understand that.”

“As soon as you are sitting here on the ground and seeing patients and seeing the dramatic results, you just know this has got to change.”

Now that the Epilepsy Foundation has become the first mainstream medical organization to embrace medicinal cannabis, more positive changes seem inevitable.

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