Julia Arnold is a seven-year-old in Colorado who has suffered from Infantile Spasms since she was seven months old. According to an abstract from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Infantile spasms is one of the ‘catastrophic childhood epilepsies’ because of the difficulty in controlling seizures and the association with mental retardation.”
To date, Julia has tried 13 different pharmaceutical drugs in an effort to stop her seizures and allow her to learn and develop like a normal child.
The Big Decision
Julia’s parents have made the decision to treat her with medical marijuana. While many people justify this direction with the simple fact that no other treatment has been effective (the “last ditch effort” rationalization), Julia’s parents report that they have experienced a decrease in their daughter’s seizures with conventional drugs, but that they aren’t sure the negative side effects — most notably, Julia’s discomfort and severe developmental delays — are acceptable. Motivated partly by CNN’s Weed series hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and examples of other children who have gained significant relief from cannabis or cannabis oil, Julia’s parents decided this might be a treatment that not only prevents her seizures, but that also delivers fewer life-altering side effects.
Said Laurie Arnold when describing the detrimental effects of her daughter’s pharmaceutical treatments:
“Yes, in many cases they’ve done their jobs, they’ve controlled her seizures — and for that we are blessed. But at a cost. They’ve delayed her development, they make her clumsy and agitated.”
While Ms. Arnold admits that she is worried about any possible negative side effects of medical cannabis, she said she is more worried about her daughter dying during a seizure. To those who say there needs to be more research into cannabis efficacy, Ms. Arnold responds, “Have you asked about the research on a 13-month-old taking the cocktail of keppra, topomax, and sabril? How about keppra, zonegran, and banzel? Keppra, valium, [and] prednisone?”
Ms. Arnold reported that she has received “99.9 percent positive responses” from those with whom she’s shared her plans. Her justification for treating her daughter with marijuana, to both friends and family — as well as herself — has been the following three points.
1. Seizures are scary.
2. Pharmaceuticals are scary.
3. Pot isn’t any scarier than seizures or pharmaceuticals.
On Monday, May 4, Julia Arnold will begin a grand experiment, the treatment of her particular form of epilepsy, Infantile Spasms, with cannabis. If cannabis is able to both suppress her seizures while also delivering fewer negative side effects, this young girl’s quality of life will have increased by leaps and bounds. Her development will improve and she’ll be happier and in less pain. In other words, Julia and her parents will be able to get on with their lives. Laurie Arnold will be able to stop continually worrying if her daughter will die during a seizure.
Why? Simply because Julia’s parents took the bold step of treating a young child with a plant. Unfortunately, it’s an embattled plant that’s been plagued by stigma and controversy for the past 100 years in the United States. How many children with epilepsy or cancer needlessly suffer simply because their parents are ignorant of the potential benefits of cannabis, or because they live in a conservative state that hasn’t legalized it for medical use?
Photo credit: Yahoo
While an increasing number of states consider the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, federal authorities have continued to enforce strict Congressional laws that, technically speaking, outlaw the cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis in any form and for any reason — anywhere in the United States.
It’s possibly not overly coincidental that Barack Obama recently spoke out in support of medical cannabis when being interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. On April 21, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Michele Leonhart will be “retiring” her role as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in May. Leonhart, depicted by even mainstream media as a Luddite who played it by the book, refused to ever admit that cannabis might offer medicinal value. Under testimony before Congress, she even refused to recognize that cannabis might be safer than hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamines.
Leonhart’s behavior has been lockstep with marijuana’s categorization under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Spanning back to the Nixon administration in 1970, this classification has prohibited the research necessary to prove the medical efficacy of cannabis for a wide range of diseases and ailments.
Recently, 20 lawmakers on the House Oversight committee logged a vote of “no confidence” for Ms. Leonhart’s leadership of the DEA. This was in response to the latest scandal involving drug cartel-funded prostitution parties in Columbia in which DEA agents participated. This inevitably led to AG Holder’s announcement.
Medical Research Needed
With no hard medical evidence, agencies like the DEA and the Department of Justice have been able to say “There’s no medical value, Schedule I makes sense.” But, in a nasty Catch 22, maintaining cannabis as a Schedule I drug has prevented the medical research necessary to prove to the government — and voters in both parties — that cannabis offers solid and significant medical benefits.
With Leonhart no longer warming the DEA chief’s seat in a few short weeks, Obama has the opportunity to prove the sincerity of his recent support for “science-based” medical cannabis — and correct his mistake of appointing Leonhart in the first place.
He can appoint a scientist or senior medical researcher, signaling the administration’s approach to all drugs to be one of health policy, not criminal enforcement. If the new chief recognized the need to reclassify cannabis as Schedule II, it would spur countless research studies and expand entrepreneurial efforts in legal states like Colorado, Washington, and Alaska.
Obama told Gupta during his interview with CNN:
“…not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we’re going to be.”
There is already an effort in Congress to reclassify cannabis to Schedule II that’s being spearheaded by Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Dean Heller called the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States) Act.
CARERS is a bipartisan bill that, if it became law, would allow states to legalize medical marijuana without federal interference. It would also allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans suffering from brain injury, neurological disorders, and PTSD. In addition, the bill would legalize high CBD strains of marijuana, making them viable medical treatments on a national level (especially for treatment-resistant epilepsy in both children and adults).
Is Obama Sincere?
If Obama wants to validate his own words in support of medical marijuana, he will appoint a new DEA chief that supports rescheduling and, by extension, robust research into the medical efficacy of cannabis. In addition, he should openly support the CARERS Act, possibly giving the bill the momentum it needs to become law and begin the inevitable recognition, legalization, and regulation of medical marijuana on the part of the federal government.
For a late second term president who might be looking for a positive legacy — one that doesn’t involve terrorism, war, corporate bailouts, and a lagging economy — pushing forth the first federal-level medical marijuana legislation could go a long way in terms of public opinion (all of which indicates that the majority of citizens support medical cannabis).