More than fifty of Oregon’s registered medical marijuana patients are under the age of 14. These children typically use one or more components, called cannabinoids, extracted from cannabis, to control cancer (and arguably send it into remission,) or to address OCD and pediatric epilepsy or to abate symptoms like chronic pain.
These results are achieved, patients and their parents say, without the dangerous side effects of conventional pharmaceuticals.
Medical studies around the world suggest that these uses are valid and beneficial and the American Medical Association has proposed reclassifying research into medical marijuana so it has a higher priority; one study at the University of California San Francisco began this spring.
However, the young Oregonians and their families say that, in addition to fighting a daily battle against combative medical conditions, they also face prejudice and derision and frequently feel pressure to keep quiet about their therapy.
One parent who speaks out is Kelly Ann Cobb of Salem. Cobb’s daughter, Rachel, now 19, began having tonic-clonic seizures at the age of eight. “One day I had a perfectly average kid, and ten days later, after a prolonged hospital stay and numerous tests a bag crammed with different medications, and no idea what to do,” Cobb says.
Rachel has continued all the intervening years to have seizures and partial seizures, but one of the most effective treatments she has received, Cobb says, is the product Cobb herself began creating recently by cold-processing cannabis, mixing the residue with coconut oil and filling capsules. It is “a godsend.”
“It helps my anxiety go down,” Rachel says, “and takes it to a lower level.” An accomplished digital “gamer” Rachel says she “can play longer and concentrate better” since using her mother’s cannabis capsules. The product she is using, inactivated THC, has no psychoactive effect.
“There is a big difference between recreational use and pharmaceutical use,” Cobb says. In upcoming months she will be serving alongside Salem Police Chief Gerald Moore, City Councilor Diana Dickey and others on an upcoming committee instituted by Mayor Anna Peterson that will weigh in on rules for medical marijuana dispensaries within Salem city limits.
Cobb is looking forward to the work because she strongly supports dispensaries’ mission. Although currently allowed in Salem, dispensaries were shut down in all of Polk County until 2015 because of a recent decision by Polk County Commissioners. “I really do feel for people in the outer communities,” Cobb says, “who have trouble getting cannabis, and who face prejudice.”
Although Oregon has recognized that marijuana has medicinal value, our state constitution does not provide a right to access. This frustrates many who believe that the primary cannabinoids of marijuana actually kill off cancerous cells and leave healthy cells alone (unlike chemotherapy, which famously destroys healthy as well as cancerous cells.) They point to a Long Island study which has also shown that cannabis helps improve cognitive functioning in bipolar patients. Why can’t this drug be universally accessible to parents?
“It really frustrates me,” Cobb says, “that doctors have no problem prescribing sedatives to children, but they balk at cannabis or cannabis therapy.”
Kaleena Brianne of Portland feels similarly. Her daughter, Lauranne is only six years old and is already a three-time survivor of Acute Myleoid Leukemia – a virulent cancer. Lauranne has “undergone a 6-month round of chemo and had the harshest of drugs thrown at her. The long-term side effects are appalling,” Kaleena says, and include compromised liver functioning. Lauranne has endured two bone marrow transplants, in preparation for which she needed “harsh chemotherapies… as well as 5 days of total body radiation.”
In desperation, Lauranne’s family turned to cannabis in July 2013. They have witnessed a remarkable change since medicating with it. “Her blood work has been the best we’ve ever seen since it starting retreatment in 2010,” Kaleena reports. “When we fought this monster the first time, we were inpatient a total of 144 days… but [after cannabis] this time around our total stay was 72” – a drop of 50%.
“The doctors were impressed with the fact that her bone marrow aspirate also showed no leukemia cells in the marrow.”
Because Lauranne’s grandparents were “not on board at first” with cannabis, her mother, who never herself used the drug recreationally, first administered it “in secret, and then told them later.” The results have been so positive that Lauranne’s grandmother now helps out with the therapy.
“I’m a total believer,” Kaleena says, “I truly believe that cannabis has helped my daughter. I’m amazed at how well she is doing now.”
Back in Salem, Rachel Cobb has benefited so much from cannabis that her parents have reason to hope that she may soon be able to reduce or stop using some of the eleven conventional medicines she takes.
Drugs like Benzodiazepine (for seizures, insomnia and more) and Kloponin (for seizures and anxiety and more,) have either addictive properties or negative side effects. Or, both. “I’d love to get her off those,” Cobb says.
Rachel too is hopeful that her health will continue to improve. “Why not? I feel like I can already do things better. Like, now I can go to the mall or the park or McDonalds. I can be away from home for up to two hours. I finally get to do things on my own. Up until now it wasn’t happening.”
After postponed education for Lauranne, and for Rachel, after a decade of learning away from her peers, both expect to attend “regular” school in the fall.
Lauranne will attend first grade and Rachel, Chemeketa Community College.