Thirteen-year-old Emily King, left, suffers from epilepsy and is on an array of medications to treat it. Her mother, Stephanie King, hopes that medical marijuana can replace her current prescriptions and give Emily a better quality of life. Although a Georgia medical marijuana bill was recently voted down, Stephanie plans to continue her quest to have the substance legalized in the state. (Staff photo: Ryan McKenzie)
CONYERS – Despite the fact that Georgia legislators recently shot down a bill that would have legalized the use of medical marijuana, one local mother is not giving up the fight for her afflicted daughter to have access to the therapeutic medicine.
For 13-year-old Emily King, having three to five seizures a day is nothing out of the ordinary. Diagnosed with epilepsy, she began having minor seizures at the age of 10 months. The convulsions became more intense as she got older, and she is now on a plethora of prescription drugs to suppress both her clonic-tonic and atonic seizures, at a cost of $2,000 per month.
Emily’s mother, Stephanie King, is concerned about the side effects of these prescriptions, including constipation, severe fatigue and loss of appetite. Long-term side effects could also include liver damage. One of the drugs Emily takes, Onfi, is a highly addictive benzodiazepine with withdrawal symptoms similar to that of heroine. Stephanie, who lives in south Rockdale County, hopes that her daughter can be taken off all these medications and have them replaced with medical marijuana in the form of cannabis oil.
“God knows the number of our days,” said Stephanie. “But while Emily is here, I want her quality of life to be as good as it can be, and to be able to be awake and function, and to be the joyful, happy girl that I know she is.”
After watching videos online of other children with epilepsy ingesting the oil and subsequently showing physical improvement, Stephanie felt that this was something that could improve her daughter’s condition. Additionally, Emily’s previous neurologist believes that marijuana could help the girl.
According to www.thehealthcure.org, children with epilepsy living in states where cannabis oil is legal have significantly benefitted from the medicinal hemp, in contrast to the drugs they were previously taking. Parents of these children have reported better physical coordination, increased concentration levels, healthier appetites, regulated sleeping patterns and a large decrease in number of seizures.
The website, www.projectcbd.org, states that cannabis oil, which is different from the recreational marijuana that is typically smoked, is rich in cannabidiol (CBD), as opposed to high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in recreational weed. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that does not produce the “stoned” feeling that comes with THC-laden recreational marijuana. Scientific studies performed by GW Pharmaceuticals and other laboratories showed that cannabis oil can treat a variety of ailments including epilepsy, chronic pain, diabetes, cancer, alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and schizophrenia. Patients who take cannabis oil usually do so by directly ingesting it or mixing it in with food.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, with recreational use being legal in two states. If it had passed, Georgia House Bill 885 would have allowed cannabis oil to be available to children with epilepsy and other seizure-related disorders, along with studying the oil to determine other uses for it. Sponsored by State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the bill passed the House in March with an overwhelming vote of 171-4. However, less than two hours before the bill would have passed on March 20, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, amended the bill to require insurance companies to provide coverage for pediatric autism as well. Although the medical marijuana bill and pediatric autism coverage are unrelated for the most part, Unterman stated that the bill would go nowhere unless autism coverage went with it. This caused controversy in the Senate, ultimately leading to HB 885 being struck down.
“Senator Unterman flat-out told myself and two other moms ‘It’s just politics,’” said Stephanie. “You’re playing politics with the health of kids.”
Some Georgia families were dissatisfied with the Senate’s decision, including 4-year-old Haleigh Cox’s of Monroe County. Cox and her mother left Georgia for Colorado, where she can legally have access to cannabis oil for her epilepsy.
In the meantime, Gov. Nathan Deal has pitched two other avenues by which medical marijuana usage could be legalized in Georgia. One would be to offer clinical trials for children with epileptic disorders through a private drug company; the other would bring clinical trials to the state using cannabis oil from federal regulators in Mississippi.
After visiting the capitol in Atlanta and the failure of HB 885 to be approved, Stephanie next plans to petition at the federal level in D.C. She would also like to see marijuana be declassified from a Schedule I narcotic to a Schedule III or IV drug. Schedule I narcotics are considered by the federal government as substances that have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, even though many states have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana. Schedule III and IV drugs are those with valid medical uses.