The conflict in Iowa is this: a battle between patients with intractable disease, and in the case of children, their parents, and legislators who don’t want to be reckless.
Jennifer McFadden makes the trip twice each day to the facility where her 12-year-old son, Liam, lives. She brings him to her car parked outside to dose him with cannabidiol she has obtained legally, then returns him to his caregivers. The facility knows what’s going on, but they look the other way because the elixir has reduced Liam’s seizures.
Pass a bandaid solution. That is what the Iowa Medical Cannabis Act really is. According to Iowa Senator Bill Dotzler, what patients are finding is that they cannot find a catalyst for getting medical cannabis in their hands. The cannabis cards made possible by the passage of the Act have not made cannabidiol more accessible to them because right now no one in Iowa can grow the cannabis sativa plant, and no one can bring in marijuana products or hemp products to Iowa.
Tedd Gassman (R-IA legislature) said he would like to see the availability of cannabidiol (CBD) expanded for those who need it. “People who have ulcerative colitis, glaucoma, cancer, as well as those with epilepsy should have access.”
CBD is an extract of the Cannabis sativa plant, which does not cause the psychoactive “high” associated with recreational marijuana, because it has had its levels of THC reduced to trace amounts. Makers of CBD, according to the website for Charlotte’s Web cannabis, strive to keep the level of THC at 0.3% compared with the content of recreational marijuana, which is approximately 15-25%.
To understand the issue of medical cannabis in Iowa, it’s first necessary to understand Iowa.
“I had more input on the medical cannabis issue than probably any senator.” Iowa State Senator Dennis Guth said. In the last session, contact with a tiny patient’s family and a petition signed by over 250 people in the district asking him to pass legislation to legalize medical cannabis caused him to thoroughly research and work diligently on the issue.
“There is a family in the Forest City area with a child under two years old who went from having hundreds of seizures to only about two per week by taking cannabidiol,” Guth said.
Guth supports moving CBD, including a strain called Charlotte’s Web CBD, favored by many parents across the state, from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 substance. “This will allow for easier testing,” Guth said.
In the 2014 session, the Iowa Legislature passed the Medical Cannabidiol Act, which allows patients or parents of minor children with intractable epilepsy to possess a small amount of cannabidiol to treat epilepsy. It is illegal to manufacture, dispense, or transport cannabidiol in Iowa, however, and critics say the law is ineffectual as a result.
“I want to expand access to cannabidiol so we have people certified to grow, those certified to transport it and dispensaries across the state,” Guth said. This plan would require high-level specifications, tight security, and heavy, expensive government oversight. Gassman said, “My worry is of the law expanding so people can also smoke it. We need to keep it to just the oil and just for people with a diagnosed medical need for it.”
Guth said of implementing expanded access this year, “It’s very complex. It needs more examination. If we let the FDA approve the components, then we go to the regular pharmacy to get it with a prescription. There’s no problem with someone having morphine if they need it, but that doesn’t mean we should begin allowing opium sales in the street.”
The family of the baby near Forest City received good news; they were able to get their testing license extended so they can continue to purchase it for the child.
The issue with medical cannabis is that the evidence of its effectiveness is anecdotal. This creates controversy in which lawmakers seem to put their fear of a patient getting high (nearly impossible with trace amounts of THC in medical strains) above relieving pain, seizures, tremors, mental illness, and other debilitating disorders.
Two international experts emerge from divergent corners to add to the base of data about the effects of medical marijuana on serious illnesses.
The first is Kyle Kushman. Kushman, a former editor of High Times Magazine is now host of The Grow Show and has spent the last two decades perfecting the cultivation of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use. His current focus is on making medical cannabis available to patients — not just those with intractable epilepsy or cancer, but to parents desperate to help their children with autism, a diagnosis growing in prevalence. “The fact that there is not much research about the effectiveness of cannabidiol on autism isn’t holding back the grassroots efforts. There are numerous pages on Facebook that have created autism and cannabis communities. There are several websites devoted to the idea. There are doctors that are writing about the stories they have heard. The one thing lacking is multiple scientific studies. But if drug companies like GW Pharmaceuticals believes it can tap into this large patient population, the studies will get funded and patients will be happy to sign up,” Kushman said.
The second is Dr. Kari Franson, an associate dean and professor with the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Franson says, “We don’t have a full enough understanding and I think we ought to know what this stuff does before we use it as medicine.”
When a plant extract is not in pharmacological form, Franson says, “you can’t administer a consistent dose and predict a consistent response in patients.” Franson agrees cannabis has been shown to be successful to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and prevent blindness due to glaucoma.
Franson is skeptical, due to what she sees as a lack of scientific evidence, that it is useful in treating the spread of cancer, intractable epilepsy, or slow the spread of dementia-related disorders.
In medical cannabis circles, a strain of cannabis that has emerged as one of the best is Charlotte’s Web cannabis.
Five Colorado brothers, Jon, Jordan, Joel, Jesse and Jared began breeding strains of the cannabis sativa plant in 2009 to contain higher concentrations of CBD with lower concentrations of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis).
Their efforts gave rise to the Realm of Caring company. They’re not just breeders, growers, manufacturers or distributors — the Realm of Caring provides help with access and support for patients with intractable epilepsy, Dravet’s syndrome, and other serious conditions, as well as the parents of children who suffer with these ailments.
Many neurological illnesses are not successfully treated by pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine. Intractable seizures are so life-quality limiting and debilitating, patients become desperate for any relief.
Cannabidioil is often the answer to the problem of brain diseases and disorders. Charlotte’s Web cannabis oil is carefully cultivated, lovingly produced under the best scientific conditions, and distributed to as many patients in need as possible. Hemp was legal and used for a variety of purposes. It was the major medicinal ingredient used in the U.S. before it was outlawed. Dr. Donald Abrams of Stanford University attempted to test cannabidiol for its effectiveness in countering the body wasting of patients with AIDS, but his research was blocked by governing authorities. Meanwhile, according to Boris Shcharansky, hemp provides an alternative.
Our ancestors had medical cannabis, but for the last 80 years we’ve been legally barred from using it, even though it’s the greatest naturally occurring anti-inflammatory yet discovered. This is what drove Boris Shcharansky to found Heartland Hemp Company and The Iowa Hemp Association. Shcharansky and his partners are on a tour to raise awareness of the history of hemp and cannabis. It’s been illegal for less time than it was legal, and it was the number one cash crop in the United States from 1800 to 1900. More than corn, beans, tobacco or wheat. “Hemp was legalized at the federal level in 2014, so we wrote legislation in line with that. Both those pieces of legislation died, but we are working to make this a national issue,” Shcharansky said.
While Shcharansky says his role is strictly as a supplier of hemp, his company has an ambassador who has begun to gain attention. Harli Kirkpatrick is a young Iowa woman with Angelman Syndrome which, among other severe symptoms, caused her to fall into a near-constant state of seizures. Shcharansky worked with manufacturers to deliver free samples to Harli’s mother. “Let’s see if this works for her,” he told her. Tami Mugler, Harli’s mother, shared their journey.
“We had traveled many miles, all the way to Boston, to seek treatment and help for her. Harli’s Medicaid would put up obstacles preventing her from trying new medications.
Then an amazing guy sent me a life changing message! He was CEO of an upcoming new company here in Iowa, and he wanted to know if he could help Harli!
Boris Shcharansky of The Heartland Hemp Company met with me and Harli soon after. He brought with him a 25% CBD pure hemp extract. As hemp and cannabis are virtually the same plant, differentiated by the way in which they are grown, he had a question. On the molecular level CBD should be CBD regardless if its derived from hemp or from cannabis. He was offering Harli the chance to find out. After several hours of questions from me, and others I had present, it was time for Harli to ask her questions.
She had only one. She looked at Boris and wrote ‘will it make me walk’. With a slight lump in his throat, he put his hand on her shoulder and softly said ‘I hope so.’
Harli began the journey of taking this extract and we slowly titrated the dose until we found her ‘sweet spot’. Harli has been completely seizure free since August of 2014. She can lift her spoon all on her own, she laughs and giggles and engages those around her, again. She is Harli again.”
July 9, 2015 marked one year since the first dose of Heartland Hemp extract.
The challenge of hemp/cannabis legalization is melding anecdotal evidence like Harli’s with scientific proof.
When the brain has endured a number of seizures, brain cells are broken down and you cannot get them back, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Liam McFadden and his mother, Jennifer, have drawn a wealth of support; before his death in 2012, Jennifer’s father, Richard McFadden was founder of the Dravet Syndrome Foundation which raised awareness and funds for research into the debilitating seizure and developmental disorder. It’s a disease that has puzzled researchers, and it seems cannabidiol is the only treatment that alleviates the seizures.
This is what Jennifer knows: the cannabis from CW Botanicals that Liam is taking — it’s helping him. He’s found relief from seizures. This is anecdotal evidence, as parents like Jennifer find a way, researchers suspect the evidence will grow into a collection of data.
The data will convince the people who need to be convinced the most — the legislators standing in the way of patients getting the relief they need.