Before I went back to college and entered corporate America, I worked as a Registered Nurse. One of my jobs during that time was managing and providing care to critically ill children at home. I took care of children on ventilators, feeding tubes and with terminal cancer. I also took care of children with severe epilepsy.
Some of these children had dozens of petite and grand mal seizures a day. We gave them anti-epileptics and barbiturates as prescribed, often times with devastating effects. They were unable to participate in the classroom, couldn’t participate in normal childhood activities and in some cases injured themselves in the throes of a grand mal seizure.
There were holistic treatments too. One of the most popular in the late ‘90’s was the ketogenic diet. No sugar or carbohydrates were allowed for these children and I distinctly remember feeding one young girl black olives as a snack. I also distinctly remember being at the bedside of another nine-year-old who convulsed nearly constantly for the two weeks before he died, when no amount of Valium or Morphine stopped his seizures.
My friend Michael Bowen is now some of those children all grown up. I have worked closely with Michael and his wife Stephani for the last several years on issues based activism and have come to simply adore them both. They are staunch Conservatives with strong faith and a strong family.
Michael was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 13. For years he took anti-epileptics and barbiturates to control his seizures. As an adult, he is now grappling with the effects of those drugs on a number of body systems. During a recent conversation, he told me he has the bones of an 80-year-old woman with osteoporosis. The damage to his bones has already required a cervical fusion. For this surgery, they took a piece of his hip bone. Now any time he bumps his hip, there is excruciating pain. According to him, you don't realize how many times a day this happens until it hurts.
Earlier this year, Michael was rushed to the hospital with severe internal bleeding and other maladies. These were caused in large part by his prescription epilepsy meds. It was an extremely scary and stressful time for his family as the doctors searched for the root cause of his distress. Following that episode, Michael was having 2-3 grand mal seizures a day. These seizures resulted in other physical injuries and each one brings the risk of stroke and cardiac arrest.
In 2016, residents of the state of Florida overwhelmingly passed Amendment 2 with 71.3% of the vote. It allowed for the use of low THC Cannabis Oil (also known as CBD oil) for medicinal purposes. Florida’s law is well constructed. It has appropriate guidelines in place, specifies disorders for which it can be used. It also requires primary physician certification of an appropriate disorder and the results of other traditional medical treatments. Recertification is required every 30 weeks. It does not currently allow for the smokeable form of marijuana or recreational use.
CBD oil controls Michael’s seizures. Technically, as a resident of Florida, he should have access to this medication through of the ten Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC’s) the Florida Department of Health was supposed to license by October 3 of this year. They have only licensed six and none are currently operational.
In Michael’s particular case and the case of others suffering from a qualifying medical condition, access to CBD oil is not a preference and it is not about getting high. It is quite literally the only thing saving them from the life-threatening consequences or excruciating physical and emotional pain caused by their condition.Two things need to happen for Michael to have access to CBD oil.
The first is the Florida Department of Health needs to meet their requirements for licensing MMTC’s under Florida law. Michael has joined the family of Matthew Garrison, a decorated Iraqi War veteran in suing the state of Florida to meet their obligation. Matthew was denied medical marijuana as it put his Veteran’s Benefits at risk. He passed away in January of 2017 of an enlarged heart. His father Steve Garrison Sr. attributes that condition in part to some of the medications Matthew was provided to treat his injuries and severe PTSD.
The second thing that needs to happen is the reauthorization of the Rohrabacher-Farr Act. This is a Federal provision set to expire December 8th that prevents any federal money from being used to prosecute medical marijuana producers and patients in the states where it is legal.
The NIH is taking the patient testimonials regarding the use of medical marijuana seriously enough that it has allocated $3.8M to study the impact medical marijuana can have on reducing opioid usage. It is also looking at the effects of CBD oil on children with epilepsy. Per the NIH:
Perhaps most notable are the allies this topic has at the national level. There are a number of bills before Congress to reclassify marijuana and open the research process into the potential health benefits by reducing red tape in the procurement process. Almost all of them enjoy bipartisan support. I think it is possible Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) put it best when he advocated for opening the research process. He became a proponent after watching a friend suffering from cancer get substantial relief from medical marijuana. From his Congressional testimony filled with puns:
Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.
Well played Senator. And for the sake of my friend Michael and others like him I pray for your success.