A change of heart on medical marijuana

After investigating the potential of cannabis as a medication over the last year, I had a change of heart. I am more convinced than ever that we need to study this like any other medication and not deny it to people who may currently benefit.

The response to our reporting on this topic has been robust, and we will continue to seek the answers people want and deserve.

People have commented on many aspects of the documentary “Weed,” but they seem to be especially captivated — as was I — by 5-year-old Charlotte Figi, now 6, affectionately called Charlie.

Charlie’s parents, Matt and Paige, had exhausted all options in an effort to stop — or at least reduce — the chronic seizures Charlie had suffered almost since birth. Her diagnosis was Dravet Syndrome.

At one time, she was on seven different anti-epileptic medications and her doctors had even suggested compounding a veterinary medication. They didn’t work, and she only continued to worsen.

By age 2, Charlie was experiencing up to 300 grand mal seizures a week — despite being on seven different medications. She was practically catatonic. In the mornings, her twin sister would hug her, saying simply that she “was glad Charlie survived the night.”

While deployed in Afghanistan, Matt watched a video about how marijuana helped stem the onslaught of seizures in a little boy. Not only did he feel medical marijuana could be the right decision for his daughter, but it was the only choice left — a courageous move for Matt, a military man, and Paige, who had consistently voted against legalizing marijuana.

Even though the Figis live in Colorado, where pot is medically and recreationally legal, the journey that would lead to Charlie’s first dose of medical cannabis was not an easy one.

Because of Charlie’s age, doctors were hesitant to prescribe pot for her and growers were skittish about selling it to her parents. All resistance faded, however, when they met Charlie.

Another challenge for the Figis was to find a strain of pot that had less THC (the compound that causes the high) and more CBD (the substance thought to help control seizures). Growers typically don’t invest in low-THC, high-CBD strains because no one wants them. They’re not a money-maker.

As fate would have it, however, a team of brothers in the marijuana business, named the Stanleys, were experimenting with just such a strain. They offered it to Matt and Paige at whatever price the two could afford.

By all accounts — including Charlie’s parents, doctors and Charlie herself — it worked.

The change that I’ve seen in Charlie in the year that I’ve known her is phenomenal. She is feeding herself, riding a bike, and enjoying horseback riding. Her parents told me they actually “see her brain making connections, putting the world together in a way that makes sense to her.”

Truly, Charlie’s is a heart-warming story, but there is much more to the debate about medical marijuana than the story of this sweet 6-year-old girl. This is hardly just about Charlotte. There are dozens of patients with a similar diagnosis, who are currently improving with their seizure control after taking cannabis. Again, for all these children, nothing else had worked.

I have spent the last year investigating many of the issues surrounding medical cannabis — including some amazing research taking place in Israel. I can only hope that my eye-opening journey will inspire others to open their minds, encourage true scientific research, and seek answers to questions that can sometimes be painful to ask.

Sanjay Gupta is editor, The Gupta Guide at MedPage Today, where this article originally appeared, and chief medical correspondent, CNN.

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