For Children’s Seizures, Turning to Medical Marijuana
Some parents desperate to ease their children’s epileptic seizures have moved to Colorado to seek relief through medical marijuana.
@nytimesphoto: For children’s seizures, turning to medical marijuana. From the Lens archives:
By the time Grace Brunno was 3, she was suffering 400 epileptic seizures a week. Her parents, desperate to ease her suffering, took a drastic step: They left their home in Missouri and moved to Colorado so their child could start a regimen of medical marijuana.
“Grace’s parents had tried everything,” said Paulo Siqueira, who documented the lives of youngsters using medical marijuana. “She was having so many seizures she was not growing up. She had no cognition, her muscles could not hold her body weight, her head was always falling to the side.”
He accompanied them on their journey, and saw how Grace was able to rebound and begin to have a semblance of a normal childhood. She is among several of his subjects in a project that might elicit shock or snickers, if not for the fact that specially bred medical marijuana has drastically eased their suffering.
The mere mention of this might leave some people aghast, thinking a child was taking bong hits. But in reality, Grace and the others are taking a form of hemp oil that offered no high, but was able to stop the seizures. The key was to breed a strain that was low in THC — the compound that gives marijuana its kick — but rich in CBD, cannabidiol, a substance that could reduce seizures. Some of these children had been taking a range of traditional — and sometimes expensive — drugs with mixed results.
The Brunnos are among several hundred families who have been helped by the Realm of Caring, a foundation started by Colorado’s Stanley brothers, who have developed a strain of hemp oil that eases symptoms of various illnesses, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Taking advantage of the state’s laws allowing medical and recreational use of marijuana, they have attracted the attention of desperate parents who have moved to Colorado.
The oil they offer is known as Charlotte’s Web, named after an early patient whose seizures eased after taking the CBD-rich oil. Granted, it was not easy to find doctors willing to write a prescription for the girl, who was 5 years old at the time.
“No doctor wanted to put their name to it,” Mr. Siqueira said. “Everyone thought it was going to be smoked.”
But when it was explained that the child would be taking an oil that produced no high, her parents were able to get a doctor’s permission. The improvement, Mr. Siqueira said, was amazing. News of her improvement has helped attract other parents to Colorado, among them those of Zaki Jackson, a child who was having hundreds of seizures a week. Like Grace, his seizures have diminished, as Mr. Siqueira discovered when he revisited the children a year after he first photographed them.
“It’s amazing, the change in some of the kids,” he said. “They were taking such strong drugs before that you’d look in their eyes and you’d see it foggy, like behind their eyes they were in another world. But now Zaki is riding a bicycle, Grace is doing much better. She has much fewer seizures. She can look at you and you know there is someone there.”
As for the Stanley brothers, Mr. Siqueira said they were hoping to help thousands more children suffering from seizures by ramping up production — in Uruguay. He said that while current laws prevented them from shipping their Colorado-made oil to other states, they could import it from Uruguay.
“Apparently, this oil is the only one that works with severe epilepsy,” Mr. Siqueira said. “If they can leave behind traditional medicines and stabilize with medical marijuana, I think that is a very positive thing.”
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