The Epilepsy Foundation has recognized medical marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy, calling for better access to the drug and more research into its possibilities.
"The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana," said Philip Gattone, CEO and president of the Epilepsy Foundation, and foundation chairman Warren Lammert in a joint statement on Thursday.
The foundation also urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to end restrictions that limit clinical trials and research into medical marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is currently classified as Schedule I, along with heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs, according to the government system, have high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. The classification also stands in the way of federal funding for research into possible benefits of the drug.
Epilepsy patients around the nation, including some children, are ignoring the federal government's stance and using medical marijuana to help treat their symptoms.
More than 100 families recently uprooted and relocated to Colorado to take advantage of the state's robust medical marijuana laws, and to find Charlotte's Web, one of the most coveted types of medical marijuana available.
Charlotte's Web is high in CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in pot, and low in THC, the component that causes users to feel high. Developed by Colorado's Realm of Caring non-profit group, it has effectively treated children who have debilitating illnesses and conditions.
Charlotte's Web and similar strains are administered in liquid or capsule form and, according to doctors, produce few or no side effects. Because of the low THC count, users don't experience the high associated with traditional marijuana.
Although medical marijuana appears to help many patients, some doctors are skeptical about its efficacy and safety.
"We don't have any peer-reviewed, published literature to support it," said Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer of Colorado's health department, to the Associated Press.
Despite the lack of hard scientific data, Paige Figi, who works for Realm of Caring, told The Huffington Post that more than 300 patients currently use the Charlotte's Web strain.
Her 7-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who inspired the name of the strain, used to suffer from hundreds of seizures each week. She was the first child in Colorado to be treated with cannabis and her recovery has been miraculous, her mother said. "She is getting a redo of all the years she was robbed by epilepsy."
The Epilepsy Foundation plans to take the following steps:
- Calling on the DEA to reschedule marijuana so it can be more easily accessible for medical research
- Supporting appropriate changes to state laws to increase access to medical marijuana as a treatment option for epilepsy, including pediatric use through a treating physician
- Supporting the inclusion of epilepsy as a condition that uses medical marijuana as a treatment option where it is currently available
- Supporting research on multiple forms of cannabis and seizures
"These organizations and the vast majority of Americans are sending a message to lawmakers that could not be any clearer -- it is time to recognize the proven medical benefits of marijuana and make it legal for those who need it," said Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. "Patients and their families should not have to move to other states or continue to suffer because their elected officials are still clinging to antiquated prohibition laws."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently have legalized marijuana in some form and about a dozen more are expected to in the coming years.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 2.3 million Americans live with epilepsy, a neurological condition that includes recurring seizures; more than 1 million of those people live with seizures that don't respond to traditional medication.