State House Committee Holds Hearing on Medical Cannabis
By Christopher Eichler, Special to The Atlanta Progressive News
(APN) ATLANTA–It was standing room only for the State House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee debate of HB 885, Georgia’s medical cannabis, or marijuana, bill.
The entire room was filled with doctors, neurologists, activists, and parents, all present to give testimony to more than twenty State Representatives in support of legalizing the use of cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in Georgia.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Georgia has an existing medical cannabis research trial program under law, but it has never been implemented since enacted over thirty years ago. HB 885 would add epilepsy to the list of qualified conditions in Georgia, which already includes cancer and glaucoma.
HB 885 is one of the most restrictive medical marijuana bills being considered in the country. It would not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana, but would only allow for the oral use of cannabidol oil, CBD oil, for the treatment of seizures.
The CBD oil is made from a strain of marijuana that is very high in cannabidol, and very low in THC, the psychoactive ingredient that has the potential to get one high.
Among those giving testimony at the hearing was Paige Figi, mother of Charlotte Figi, the six year-old girl who suffered from hundreds of seizures a week until taking the CBD oil; and Joel Stanley, one of the Colorado brothers who developed the “Charlotte’s Web” strain of marijuana that is used to make the CBD oil. Their story was featured in Dr. Sanja Gupta’s CNN television special, WEED.
Paige Figi explained how the CBD oil reduced Charlotte’s seizures from “hundreds a week, to as few as one to none a week,” and reduced the seizure times from “over five minutes per seizure, to less than 15 seconds for some.”
“Charlotte’s life has completely changed, she is talking, and able to sleep through the entire night.”
Not everyone was so enthusiastic about the Charlotte’s Web oil. Sue Rusche, President and CEO of National Families in Action, raised some questions about the Stanley brothers’ production.
“Has the Charlotte’s Web oil been purified; is it free of molds and pathogens?”
“I know the Charlotte’s Web oil has not been animal tested, which is required for FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approval,” Rusche said.
Even though the Charlotte’s Web oil has not been FDA approved, there are hundreds of families like Paige Figi’s who have moved to Colorado in the hopes of using the oil and seeing results like Charlotte’s.
“The oil is 85 percent effective at reducing seizures by 50 precent or more, and… the cost is around 200 dollars per week versus 2,000 dollars or more a week for conventional pharmaceuticals,” Stanley said.
“These parents have exhausted all other pharmaceutical options, nothing else is working,” Stanley said.
Even if HB 885 passes, the main problem is obtaining the oil itself.
“The elephant in the room is the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency). Colorado can do what it does in Colorado, but as soon as any cannabis crosses Colorado state lines, the DEA will come down,” Rick Allen, Director of the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency, said.
State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, had a bit more optimistic view of the situation.
“I have seen the results that are happening through Charlotte’s Web. We will be evaluating every option to get it to Georgia,” Peake said.
One option Rusche proposed was Epidiolex, a cannabidiol developed by GW Pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom. Rusche prefers this product over the Charlotte’s web oil, because “Epidiolex has been granted FDA orphan status,” she said. This means it has been approved by the FDA for use in medical trials.
When Rusche was asked why no parents were trying to get the Epidiolex, Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) chimed in, “If Dr. Gupta had done a show on Epidiolex, then it would be more popular.”
Another option mentioned by Mr. Allen is the Federal Marijuana Farm at the University of Mississippi, the only location to be federally licensed to grow cannabis in the United States.
The Farm, according to Allen, does produce a cannabidiol oil that is purified, and free of molds and all pathogens.
However, the approval process to obtain the oil for medical trials is a lengthy one that could take years.
“Our children don’t have years,” many parents testified, echoing comments by Rep. Peake.