Kentucky Senate Approves Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Oil

Cannabidiol oil will now be available to treat childhood epilepsy.
Thanks to a new bill in Kentucky, children who suffer from seizures have a chance to use oil derived from marijuana plants proven effective in treating the illness. (Photo: REUTERS/Anthony Bolante)
Mar 15, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Liana Aghajanian is TakePart's weekend editor. Her work has appeared in ForeignPolicy.com, BBC.com, Los Angeles Times, and TheAtlantic.com.

Kentucky this week moved closer to allowing the use of derivatives such as oil of hemp and marijuana for medicinal purposes. It's not a comprehensive medical marijuana bill like those that exist in 22 states and D.C., but it's the compassionate use device has epilepsy advocates thrilled.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Julie Denton, the bill specifically designates drugs used in FDA-approved studies or compassionate use programs as exempt from the definition of marijuana. It also classifies the substance cannabidiol, when "recommended by a physician practicing at a state research hospital," as exempt.

Cannabidiol oil, or CBD, has been shown to have antiseizure properties and has been successfully used to treat seizures in children in several cases who suffer from Dravet syndrome, a life-threatening illness for which pharmaceutical drugs are often ineffective. The most well-known case is that of seven-year-old Charlotte Figi, who went from 300 grand mal seizures a day to two or three incidents per month after using the oil. The strain of cannabis used to treat the girl is high in CBD and low in the mind-altering compound THC, and has since been nicknamed "Charlotte's Web." A similar case was documented in TakePart earlier this month.

Cannabis is classified by federal law as a Schedule I substance, making it a crime to possess any amount of it. But the Justice Dept. has said it will defer to state law in cases of medical marijuana, even though federal law trumps state law under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Seizures are common in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Interestingly, these individuals also have an increased number of cannabinoid receptors, according to a November 2013 study published in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders. The study's data indicates that the receptors were found as potential therapeutic targets for the pharmalogical management of autism care.

Last month Rita Wooten, the Kentucky mother of a toddler plagued by seizures, spoke before the Kentucky Senate Health and Welfare Committee in support of the bill.

In the last few weeks her son had had thousands of seizures; 14 pharmaceutical medicines had proved ineffective in providing him with a better quality of life.

"You don't know what it's like until you take my son home with you," she said. "I'm not looking for sympathy, or even empathy. We're looking for help."

The bill is believed to have a good chance of passing the House of Representatives and is even supported by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky State Police. The Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana has also championed the measure.

"If S.B. 124 passes the House of Representatives and is signed into law by Governor Beshear, families will no longer have to uproot, leave loved ones and life as they know it, to access medical marijuana," Debbie McGrath, executive director of the foundation, told TakePart.

Citing the more than 30,000 children and adults who live with uncontrollable seizures in Kentucky alone, McGrath stressed that nothing should stand in the way of accessing CBD, "especially if their health care professional feels they should consider this as a viable treatment," she said.

Though Kentucky is also heading up five pilot projects that will test whether hemp can help clean soil on former industrial sites, it's not alone in its approval of CBD oil.

The Alabama Senate has approved a bill authorizing the University of Alabama at Birmingham to study the use of oil to treat seizures. In Utah, the trial use of the oil was approved this month, causing parents of epileptic children to burst into applause in the House chambers, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.