Locals support state cannabis growth
The Jackson Herald
Feb. 10, 2016
By Katie Cofer and Alex Pace
Northeast Georgia Area residents strongly support growing medical cannabis in Georgia.
In an online Mainstreet News poll, more than 83 percent of people said they support allowing the state of Georgia to regulate the production of cannabis oil for medical use in the state. Fourteen percent are against it and two percent are undecided. The results track other statewide polls that show over 84 percent support medical cannabis production in Georgia.
Local state representatives are also showing their support. Many have signed a bill that would allow in-state growth of medical cannabis.
And many local families are already using the cannabis oil for medical purposes, despite no legal way to get the oil in Georgia.
Last year, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1 (Haleigh’s Hope Act). The law allows people with certain conditions (cancer, seizure disorders, ALS, mitochondrial disease, MS, Parkinson’s and sickle cell) to use medical cannabis with a low THC count.
But getting the oil is still illegal. In-state cultivation has not been approved and the Food and Drug Administration lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug, meaning people can’t transport it across state lines.
But local families are taking the risk. Here are some of their stories:
Hawk Harrison, of Banks County, started having seizures weeks after he was born. The doctors weren’t sure what was causing the seizures and a CT scan later revealed Hawk had a massive spontaneous brain hemorrhage.
He was life-flighted and put into a coma for weeks. Doctors placed a drain in his head to help the blood clot.
Hawk has undergone 10 brain surgeries and shunt revisions. He’s been through physical therapy and placed on several seizure medications.
Hawk’s mom, Katie, said many of the medicines had bad side effects. Some could cause mood swings, cause cognitive damage or create a “zombie effect.” Hawk also started a ketogenic diet, which Katie said did help with Hawk’s infantile spasms.
But since starting cannabis oil in August 2014, Katie said Hawk has made many improvements.
Katie said Hawk’s improvements were immediate. She said they could instantly see a difference in Hawk’s awareness and a clarity in his eyes. His seizures have become less frequent, and Hawk’s neurologist said he noticed an improvement in his brain scans.
“It is a thousand times better,” he told Katie during the appointment.
Some local families have chosen to remain in the state and risk legal prosecution for having the oil transported. But several local families have chosen to leave their homes to legally get the oil in other states.
Laura Oliver and her son, Tripp, moved from Commerce to Colorado in 2014 to obtain medical cannabis to treat Tripp’s Dravet Syndrome.
Tripp had his first seizure when he was six-months-old. It lasted 45 minutes. Doctors said it was probably a febrile seizure, but the seizures continued.
Nine weeks later, the Olivers found Tripp in his crib with his body half paralyzed. The paralysis wore off, but Tripp’s seizures grew stronger and more frequent.
Tripp was life-flighted after having a three-and-a-half hour long seizure. He then started having blinking seizures ever two-to-10 seconds.
The Olivers tried several medications and diets, but the seizures continued. Before leaving for Colorado, Tripp’s prolonged seizures returned and he started seizing through the night.
Frustrated and desperate to help Tripp, the family started looking for an alternative medicine. The family moved to Colorado and started Tripp on THCA, a low-THC oil.
Since starting on cannabis oil, Tripp’s seizures are shorter in length and he hasn’t had any trips to the emergency room.
“His speech continues to improve dramatically,” said Oliver. “He can now jump and stand on one foot for more than five seconds — which he could not do before the oil. He is bright-eyed and happy. He introduces himself to everyone he meets and introduces me as “my Laura Mom.”
Oliver said the family wants to come home, but limitations in Georgia’s cannabis law are keeping them in Colorado.
“We are working from afar and through family to change the current law so that Tripp can come home,” said Oliver.
One Auburn mother uses the oil to treat her son’s Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that cannot be treated with regular epilepsy medications.
Ryan had his first febrile seizure when he was eight-months-old, which doctors initially thought could be due to teething or an infection. But the seizures continued.
By the time he was four-years-old, his seizures were out of control. Ryan’s mother, Kimberly Skriba, said he has had up to 100 seizures a month, and up to 28 seizures in one night.
Now 17-years-old, Ryan has been on 17 different medications and Skriba said each had terrible side effects. When Ryan started taking cannabis oil, his seizures decreased. Ryan now has less than 35 seizures a month.
“Cannabis oil has been our last hope,” said Skriba. “I know this is not a cure but it could help him live a better life without so many seizures. We have tried so many different drugs and therapies that don’t work. We know that cannabis oil is working for him.”
Erin Cleveland, of Winder, says the cannabis oil is also working for her daughter, Lainey.
Lainey was born four weeks early and began having twitching episodes when she was almost four-months-old. Doctors said they were infantile tremors, probably due to her premature birth.
But the seizures kept occurring and after one episode of seizure clusters, she was sent to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Doctors diagnosed her with Aicardi Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy.
Lainey started taking cannabis oil in January 2014. Cleveland began giving her the oil secretly, wondering if others would notice a difference. Lainey’s therapist and others close to the family noticed immediately.
Cleveland said the most noticeable improvements are cognitive. Since starting the oil, Lainey made eye contact for the first time and smiles and babbles. She also has fewer seizures.
Lainey had been on several medications before starting the oil, and Cleveland said they had harsh effects on her.
“The other medicines take your child away,” said Cleveland.
Another northeast Georgia girl has benefited from the cannabis oil in her battle with Aicardi Syndrome.
Becky Lynch adopted her daughter, Norah, when she was five months old. A few months later, Norah started having infantile spasms. Lynch describes the seizures as “brutal,” especially the grand mal seizures, which affect Norah’s breathing.
“They are the seizures that take lives,” said Lynch.
Lynch said Norah has been on every anti-epileptic medication available, but the seizures continue.
She’s been hospitalized several times on life support and is considered a terminal child. During one hospital visit, the chaplain was asked to speak with the Lynches.
Norah started using cannabis oil in July and she hasn’t been hospitalized since. She hasn’t had another grand mal seizure and Lynch said she’s had a 90 percent reduction in the number of total seizures.
While Lynch knows Norah may never be seizure-free, she said the oil has been lifesaving.
“My daughter would not be here right now if not for cannabis oil,” said Lynch.
Many local adults are also using cannabis oil to treat their medical conditions. Janel McDaniel, of Braselton, started having seizures when she was 31-years-old. McDaniel said the seizures came out of nowhere and changed her life as a wife and mother.
“I had to go from driving, playing in the lake and Six Flags, to teaching my kids seizure protocols and how to leave the room so they aren’t scared,” she said.
McDaniel had “drop seizures,” where she could be walking and instantly drop to the ground seizing. The seizures lasted about five minutes and the recovery took days.
McDaniel started taking the oil last year and said she’s seen a decrease in the number of seizures. Her seizures now last less than 10 seconds and she gets a warning before they occur. The oil also cuts down on the recovery time and allows McDaniel to be more independent.
“The best part is that after the seizure, I now go right back to normal shortly afterwards,” she said. “I can remember things now and I even recently got to go back to work.”
McDaniel said she looks forward to being able to drive again and getting back to her normal life as a mother.
But she recognizes the risk. McDaniel has a legal card with the Department of Public Health, but has to have the oil illegally shipped across state lines.
“I have to get it from out of state until we can get in-state cultivation and risk going to jail in order to allow my kids to have a mom,” said McDaniel.
Jennifer Howard, of Jefferson, has been taking cannabis oil for six months to treat her mitochondrial disease. Howard also has dystonia, which causes her muscles to contract uncontrollably, and has gastroparesis, which essentially paralyzed her stomach.
“This makes it virtually impossible to eat,” said Howard. “I spent years practically living in the hospital on IV nutrition through a port or central line.”
Howard had several blood infections and spent an average of 200 days a year in the hospital.
Howard started using cannabis oil six months ago and hasn’t been hospitalized since August. She can eat again and her dystonia symptoms have improved. She was confined to a wheelchair in 2015 but can now walk short distances with a cane.
“I have my life back,” said Howard. “My children have their mom back, and my husband has his wife back. I am living again, and I thank medical cannabis.”
A northeast Georgia parent who did not want to be identified has struggled with obtaining the CBD oil that he says dramatically benefits his 8-½ year old son who suffers from juvenile dermatomyositis or JDM. JDM is an autoimmune disorder that is not yet recognized as a medical condition named in the current medical cannabis legislation in Georgia. His son’s illness is categorized with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
“Our son’s diagnosis isn’t included in the Georgia legislation and even if it was, we wouldn’t have the ability to get it,” W.R. said.
About five years ago, in 2011, his oldest son at age four was vaccinated before starting school.
“We were always somewhat cautious with vaccines,” W.R. said. “We may have declined a MMR. After the vaccinations, he ended up getting a weird rash within a week and a half.”
The doctors decided his son was probably suffering from hand foot and mouth disease and gave him some medication, but it didn’t work. Three months later, he was diagnosed with juvenile dermatomyositis or JDM. The doctors wanted to pump him up with chemo drugs and steroids, the man said.
As the family would rather choose a natural remedy, they did their research and came across a doctor in California, Dr. William Courtney, a proponent for juicing cannabis leaves to treat illness. Courtney proposes that with juicing raw cannabis, you don’t receive the psychoactive effects, but you do receive the medical benefits.
“Heat activates THC,” the man said. “Without the heating process, THC is not as psychoactive as normal.”
The family moved to California. They started juicing cannabis leaves. “We would go to the grower and get bags of fresh leaves off the plant,” the man said.
Within a month, they saw a dramatic result from juicing, which was basically given to his son as a shot glass of green juice per day.
But the family could only afford to stay in California for three months. In May of 2012, they decided to come back and changed their son’s treatment over from fresh leaves to a CBD oil, which is made without heating that was basically smuggled from someone they knew. They lost that connection last year. Since then, their son has reversed back to having flare ups and the family has had to revert back to using steroids as a treatment and his son gets immunoglobulin treatments at Emory once a month in two consecutive days.
“We tried the legal hemp CBD, but there is a symbiotic relationship between the CBD and THC,” the man said. “It has to have some THC available.”
The family has spread their cause in an anonymous manner, especially since having to revert back to old methods that have unknown effects on their son.