Local News

February 2, 2014

Medical marijuana gaining support in Georgia

For the past four months, Sarah Callaway has had to watch as her daughter Greylynn’s body has been wracked by uncontrollable spasms several times a day.

“They don’t hurt her. But they scare her, and she cries. And you can’t do anything for her except comfort her,” said Callaway, a Chatsworth resident. “That’s the most frustrating part. I just say to her, ‘I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you. I’m sorry.’”

When Greylynn was born six months ago, doctors diagnosed her with a brain malformation and gave her only weeks to live. She survived, but her condition has left her with a form of epilepsy called infantile spasms. She’s currently on two different anti-seizure medications, one of which could possibly leave her blind. But they only control the spasms. They don’t stop them.

Sarah Callaway and her relatives have researched the issue and talked to other parents of children with seizure disorders, and she said she has found that some children have seen dramatic improvements when treated with cannabis oil.

“It has been known to help babies with what my daughter has,” she said.

Cannabis oil is sometimes referred to as a form of medical marijuana. But Callaway said that calling it medical marijuana might give people the wrong impression of how it works, since the oil is very low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound that gets people high.

“It doesn’t make you high. But it stops the seizures, and it would help her have the best quality of life she can. These children deserve that. Why would you not do something that would help them have a better quality of life?” she said.

Cannabis oil, like most other products from the cannabis plant, is currently illegal in Georgia. But last week, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, introduced a bill that would allow the state’s medical colleges to dispense the oil to those with seizure disorders. Some 80 of the 180 members of the state House of Representatives have already signed onto the bill. Among them is state Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.

“As a parent, I know that I would do anything that I could to stop my child from suffering,” Meadows said.

Meadows said many lawmakers understand that feeling and that’s why this issue has emerged so quickly. He said it has also helped that Peake tailored the bill so narrowly, allaying any fears that legalizing medical marijuana could increase recreational use.

“We aren’t talking about rolling a joint and smoking it. We aren’t talking about marijuana stores in every city,” he said.

Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, has also signed onto the bill.

“If you’ve read the emails we have gotten from parents who have children with seizure disorders that this can treat, I couldn’t understand how you wouldn’t be in favor of it,” Dickson said. “The bill has been very carefully crafted so it won’t increase recreational use of marijuana. It deals only with a derivative with a very high medicinal value. It doesn’t provide access to any kind of smokable marijuana. It won’t create any marijuana stores.”

Dalton resident Sheli Gillley has been staying with her daughter Zoe in an Atlanta hospital for the past three weeks, but that hasn’t stopped her from contacting lawmakers and urging them to support Peake’s bill.

Zoe, 7, suffers from a mitochondrial disease as well as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, both of which cause seizures. She’s currently being treated with three different seizure medicines as well as an implant and a special diet.

“But we still have multiple seizures daily,” Gillley said. “Yesterday, we had about 20.”

While Zoe has not been treated with cannabis oil, Gillley said she has talked to the mother of one girl who has.

“They are seeing astounding results,” she said. “They went from having 400 (seizures) a week to one a month. She says she hasn’t heard of one case where there hasn’t been a dramatic reduction in seizures. Sometimes, they have stopped completely. Plus they are able to come off their medications. That has such an improvement on their cognitive functions. They are basically coming out of a fog.”

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