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Should children be treated with cannabis derivatives like Cannabidiol (CBD) oil? The answer might be different depending on the health of particular children – for instance, is it all right to give children with cancer marijuana-infused fruit chews to make their lives less painful? Or is it all right for a baby suffering from severe and life-threatening epilepsy to receive hemp oil doses in order to survive? Vice’s episode Stoned Kids, from their series Weediquette, is an eye-opener to the presence of medicinal cannabis in the lives of chronically ill children, and is worth a peek just for ways that some families have made it work. (Warning: you may not agree with all the parents and methods in this film.)

Amylea Nuñez, the first infant ever to be treated using CBD oil (Source: CBS)

The recent groundbreaking hemp oil treatment of Amylea Nuñez at Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, this month may also affect the answer. Amylea was born with epilepsy, and was seizing every four hours almost from birth; then the seizures came every two hours, then every thirty minutes. Imagine the terror of a 66 minute-long seizure in a new infant, knowing that every moment might kill her. Due to her seizures, Amylea’s heart stopped twice during her 15 seizures per day, and her parents (Ernie and Nicole Nuñez) did not want to give her a medicine which might have stopped the seizures but, in turn, damage her liver.  The parents asked neurologists at Children’s Hospital to let them use the Stanley brothers’ famous Charlotte’s Web CBD oil (containing low THC) in order to treat Amylea. The parents were refused for weeks, but the neurologists finally allowed the treatment, with spectacular results. This picture demonstrates Amylea’s increased awareness of people around here, something that had been lacking prior to her treatment with Charlotte’s Web. Ernie and Nicole’s eventual goal is to take Amylea completely off conventional medicines and use only the hemp oil to reduce or eliminate her seizures. Children’s Hospital has stated that they want to continue helping children like Amylea in the future, even if that help includes allowing CBD oil treatment. The improvement Amylea shows over time should help doctors, patients, and children with severe epilepsy by recording infants’ reaction to the oil and any long-term side effects. Amylea’s experience could pave the way for natural treatments of not only epilepsy in children, but also other diseases cannabis derivatives have been shown to affect, such as cancer.

Cannabis is so effective in treating epilepsy that the head of the Epilepsy Foundation, Chairman of the Board Warren Lammert, has recommended that CBD oil be made available nationally for children with epilepsy. Jenna, an eight-year-old who moved to Colorado in 2014 with her family, got on the waiting list for Charlotte’s Web as soon as she could, and has reduced her seizures down to 50 a month from 300 – her family stated that “she’s developing a personality that we’ve never seen, so it’s been very awesome.” The effects of Charlotte’s Web generally take up to 9 months to kick in, but Jenna’s seizures were controlled considerably after only 2 months, indicating that different children will have different results from the medication.

Dr. Amy Brooks-Kayal is the chief of pediatric neurology at Children’s Hospital, and teaches as a professor of pediatrics, neurology, and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine. Her specialty is pediatric epilepsy, and she is president of the American Epilepsy Society. Medical providers at Children’s Hospital cannot prescribe or even recommend medical marijuana, Charlotte’s Web, or any other treatments associated with cannabis because of the lack of “clear, scientific evidence that marijuana improves epilepsy in children.” However, Dr. Brooks-Kayal stated that the hospital wants to continue to work with families who choose to administer cannabis-derived medicines to their children, suggesting that hospital baseline testing will help parents administer the correct dosage and look for positive and adverse side effects.

Colorado is not the first or only state to administer hemp oil to children; it has also been done in Texas. Now Amylea has company in Colorado as well – a second baby, named Adeline, has been treated with Charlotte’s Web. Amylea has recently been taken out of the NICU and is doing well, and suffering about 70 percent fewer seizures than her worst days, according to her mother. There is conflicting information in the media about which children being treated with CBD and hemp oil are a part of a clinical study or cannabis trial; at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, doctors are part of an “international drug trial to test a marijuana compound used to treat epilepsy.” (This is according to Afarin Majidi of Firsttoknow.com. Majidi reported that 10 children ages two to 14 are the subjects of the Texas study, and all have Lennox-Gastaut Symdrome (LGS), which is a severe form of epilepsy resulting in up to 150 seizures per day for the children.)

Sam Vogelstein, an 11-year-old boy who is being treated with CBD oil for his severe form of epilepsy (Source: Wired)

A trial in Melbourne, Victoria, at Australia’s Austin Health is using a synthetic cannabidiol developed by Insys Therapeutics, Inc. in the United States; the synthetic cannabidiol is being used to test the effects on 60 epileptic children over twelve months. This study is proceeding despite the Australian Associated Press’ report that synthetic cannabidiols are not as safe or effective as those derived from actual cannabis. As the stakes climb in childhood and infant epilepsy cases, so does the determination of parents to obtain a safe, non-damaging, natural, and medically approved option for controlling seizures and allowing their children to lead normal lives. Sam’s story is the remarkable tale of an 11-year-old boy whose family was flying all over the world in order to obtain pharmaceutical-grade cannabis derived pills for their son in desperation, after years of over 100 seizures per day. Sam’s family endured four months of communications and meetings in Europe and the United States in order to obtain the drugs – which were created just for Sam by an unnamed company in California. Sam’s seizures were eventually reduced to 3 per day from the original 100 by a dosage of 250 mg of pure CBD oil from GW Pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom.

Despite all the success stories of cannabis-derived medicines for children like Sam, Amylea, Jenna, and Adeline, the fact remains that medical science has not yet caught up with cannabidiols in many cases, and the difficulty of testing children is part of what’s holding it back. Brave parents and families who are trying to help their children with cannabidiol trials (using both natural and synthetic types) will eventually be the pioneers of the medical knowledge gained twenty years from now, and there is no doubt that children with epilepsy will be impacted in positive ways too numerous to count. Simply having a normal day, eating breakfast, going to school, enjoying the company of friends and family, and the ability to learn like other children is the true test of cannabidiol and hemp oil use for these children: living a productive, happy life is now possible.

As studies continue across the globe at breakneck pace, and pharmaceutical companies struggle to find a synthetic version of cannabidiol or hemp oil which contains no THC, the true healing nature of the cannabis plant will continue to play a substantial part in the medical industry at large, for epilepsy patients and many other patients who may be struggling with natural and safe resolutions for other diagnoses.

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