Pubdate: Thu, 06 Feb 2014
Source: Tucson Weekly (AZ)
Copyright: 2014 Tucson Weekly
author: J. M. Smith


A Strain of Cannabis Is Helping a Local Child With Epilepsy, but 
Backwards Laws Are Still Keeping the Best Treatment Out of Reach

There's been a lot of talk since the medical cannabis system started 
in Arizona-even before it started-that it was a sham. Naysayers have 
claimed all along that it's nothing more than a thin veneer of fake 
compassion laid over a deep well of recreational use.

But even if what Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will 
Humble believes is true-that our state system is a hybrid 
recreational-medical system-it doesn't change the dramatic ways 
cannabis is helping people, even children. Just ask Aari Ruben, 
director of the Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center on East 22nd Street.

Last year, a mother walked into Ruben's shop looking for some 
cannabis high in the cannabinoid cannabidiol, or CBD, for her son, 
who is 6 and suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. Her son was having 
hundreds of seizures per week despite a long list of dangerous drugs 
that didn't work. They decided to try cannabis when doctors told them 
the next step in her son's treatment was a hemispherectomy, or 
literally removing a large portion of her son's brain.

Not so fast, she said.

Ruben found a strain called Harlequin for her, and it helped. Since 
then he has added three other children-one of whom just turned a year 
old-to the list of kids he is helping at no charge. Others with 
children have approached him and are considering it, some, they say, 
after physicians suggested it.

"Doctors who heard from their colleagues about this are quietly 
closing the door and telling parents to try it," Ruben said. He is 
frustrated that no doctors are coming out to work openly with him to 
guide the children's treatment.

The effectiveness of cannabis against epilepsy was brought to 
national attention when CNN's chief medical correspondent, former 
cannabis doubter Dr. Sanjay Gupta, flipped. He decided to actually 
study medical marijuana, so he traveled around the world talking to 
actual doctors who were using it in treatments. What he found made 
him change his mind, and he now supports medical cannabis.

One patient Gupta highlighted in last summer's documentary, Weed, was 
Charlotte Figi, a child in Colorado whose parents tried cannabis 
after dozens of other drugs failed to stop their daughter's 300 gran 
mal seizures per week. Her seizures all but stopped after she started 
using oil made from a strain of cannabis called Charlotte's Web. 
There is mounting anecdotal evidence that CBD is highly effective 
against seizures, though as with any ailment helped by cannabis, 
there is little clinical proof.

Two of Ruben's patients have seen dramatic improvement.

His first epilepsy patient saw a reduction from hundreds of seizures 
per week to a handful almost immediately. He can pay attention in 
school, he plays more, he talks more. Another patient, a 13-month-old 
girl, is now having just one seizure per week, Ruben said. He expects 
similar results for the other two children after they stabilize dosages.

Charlotte's Web was developed by a group of six brothers named 
Stanley at their legal grow in Colorado. Originally, the strain was 
called Hippie's Disappointment, because while it is high in CBD, it's 
very low in THC, which as most of you know is responsible for getting 
cannabis users high. Charlotte's Web has about 1 percent THC and 
about 20 percent CBD. This is especially important for children, 
because no one wants to get kids high unless they have to.

Pharmaceuticals already do that, which is a key reason many of these 
parents want to try cannabis. Harlequin, the most effective strain 
Ruben can find in Arizona, has about 9 percent CBD and 4 percent THC, 
a ratio of roughly 2 to 1. What Ruben needs is a ratio closer to 
Charlotte's Web's 20 to 1. But he can't get it. The strain isn't 
available yet in Arizona and there is no way to legally import it. 
Federal law prevents cross-state traffic, even between states where 
cannabis is legal.

"It's like having Silicon Valley that can only make chips for 
California," Ruben said.

Ultimately, this situation is going to work itself out. I believe the 
federal government is going to lift interstate commerce restrictions 
in the cannabis world in the next couple of years. I think they'll 
come around, just like Sanjay Gupta did, and parents here will be 
able to get whatever strains they need.

Isn't that the right thing to do?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom