ABC13 Special Report: Is Virginia Going to Pot?
Danville, VA - What if your child was suffering everyday and there was nothing you could do to help? That's the reality for one Virginia mother, whose young son has multiple seizures every day.Tracie Thomas is at the end of her rope. Now, she hopes marijuana is just what her child needs. While many of us live day to day, Thomas and her family live minute to minute."It's pretty crazy. We don't know what we're going to get, " Thomas said.Doctors diagnosed Tracie's 11-year-old son Caleb with epilepsy in 2005."From that point on, he's had seizures, " she said. Several seizures, every single day.For the last several years, Caleb has been unable to go to school more than a day or two a week, due to low stamina and learning difficulties.He has an implant that sends constant nerve stimulation to his brain, and he's currently taking 20 pills a day - some with violent side effects."It caused him to be very aggressive hit and kick and bite, " she said.Tracie's older son Austin is 16. He plays a big role in Caleb's care."He's cool. He's probably like the coolest little kid I know. It's just, sometimes he has seizures and he has to lay down. He doesn't deserve it, " Austin said.Tracie says, as a teen, Austin has had to make some sacrifices to be there for his brother, but Caleb needs him now more than ever, following the sudden death of their father last year, something that took a toll on the whole family."Some days he'll cry, 'I miss my daddy'. It's just added an extra load onto all of us, I think, " said Thomas.As Caleb's seizures continue and his options run out, his mother is hoping marijuana will be the key to saving her son's health."Caleb has been through every medication on the list, except for three, and one of those can cause blindness. I would like to see another option, " said Tracie.In Colorado, an unconventional treatment for epilepsy made national headlines thanks to 5-year-old Charlotte Figi, who went from having 300 seizures a week to less than five thanks to a new strain of medical marijuana.Growers breed the strain to have a high level of CBD - the component that some believe fights seizures, and a low-level of THC - the part that gets you high. Then, the CBD is extracted from the plant to be administered in the form of an oil that is placed under the tongue."No other child in Virginia has tried this, " Tracie said.Medical marijuana is not permitted for patients with epilepsy in Virginia, but Tracie is working with a doctor in Winchester to petition the FDA to get CBD oil for Caleb under "compassionate use", allowing an unapproved drug for a patient that has no other options.The Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia hopes this will be the first step for other children suffering as well."We hope from this compassionate use that we can establish a pattern in Virginia, " said Suzanne Bischoff with the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia.Though many parents of children with Epilepsy hope this oil is the answer to their prayers, many doctors are skeptical."It's one thing just to hand people a substance and say 'That might work,' when we don't know what we're doing, what the proper dose is, how you go about delivering it, " said Dr. Thomas Eppes.According to Eppes, with any drug, the only way to prove it works is to perform the appropriate studies, and no such conclusive studies have been done on CBD oil in the treatment of epilepsy.Even the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado says there is "limited scientific data to support the use of marijuana in the treatment of epilepsy in humans", but Tracie says waiting years for studies and trials may be too long for children like Caleb."If we can't find a treatment for Caleb, I don't know what the future holds. It's hard to say, " Tracie said.One roadblock for researchers in Virginia is marijuana's Federal classification as a Schedule One substance.The state epilepsy foundation has started an online petition to change that classification, and create easier access to CBD oil in the near future.However, two local medical cannabis experts say it's not just the CBD that has healing properties.Tune in next Thursday to hear their take on marijuana, and how they hope it can help veterans dealing with post traumatic stress.