Renee Petro, 36, lives in Lithia and constantly cares for her 13-year-old son, Branden, who suffers from febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome. She heard medical marijuana helped others with epilepsy and has considered trying to get some illegally to save her son’s life, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
I am not a mother, but I would like to be one day. With that in consideration, I cannot fathom watching my child suffer from countless daily seizures, let alone allowing a disease like this take my child’s life when I know there is a drug out there that can help. I would find a way to get my hands on this drug, legal or not, if it meant improving my child’s life and possibly saving it.
In America, epilepsy is as common as breast cancer and takes just as many lives, according to epilepsy.com. Thirty percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy are children, who also have a greater chance of dying prematurely from the disease, according to webmd.
To control daily seizures, many people like Branden are forced to take high-dose drugs such as antipsychotics. Taking too much causes lethargy, and taking too little could cause uncontrollable seizures, according to The Tampa Bay Times. In states where medical marijuana is legal, those suffering from epilepsy have reported a decrease in seizures along with other benefits.
In June of 2014, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law allowing limited use of a special strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web for patients with epilepsy and other serious diseases. This strain got its name from a Colorado girl named Charlotte Figi who found relief from seizures with this type, which is very low in THC, the chemical responsible for the high, according to The Huffington Post.
Although this bill was signed into law, it has unfortunately become caught up in numerous political fights and is not currently available, according to The Tampa Bay Times. This makes it impossible for Branden’s mother to legally obtain any form of marijuana to treat her son unless she moves to a state where it is legal, which may happen. She plans to move to California by the end of the year, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
An obstacle to legal medical marijuana is the lack of clinical trials proving that the drug helps people with epilepsy. There are a lot of personal stories, but the government wants science to back up these claims. There is a single clinical trial from 1980 that shows the positive effects of marijuana on those suffering from epilepsy, and there are some animal trials as well, according to epilepsycolorado.org. However, the lack of scientific evidence is mostly due to the harsh restrictions the Drug Enforcement Agency has placed on research. These restrictions make it difficult for doctors to conduct any clinical trials, according to medicaljane.com.
I understand Petro’s frustration with Florida law, but I also understand the harsh limitations brought on by the DEA and the government. Marijuana is widely used as a recreational drug to which some users become addicted and go on to try more dangerous drugs after using it. There are 158.8 million people around the world who use marijuana recreationally. Of the adults 26 or older who used it before turning 15, 62 percent went on to do cocaine at some point in their lives, according to drugfreeworld.org.
The government is working hard to stop the legalization of medical marijuana out of fear it will make it easier for recreational users to obtain it. The lack of clinical trials has an effect as well. It is sad that the ones who have abused any kind of drug, not just marijuana, are standing in the way of medical marijuana becoming available to those who really need it.
Medical marijuana is never going to be available in Florida unless more clinical trials are conducted, so the limitations that are inhibiting research need to be removed. We will never be able to prove the positive effects of the drug that people in other states are speaking of until we let doctors conduct research. Research that leads to positive results means medical marijuana could help the millions of Americans that live with epilepsy not only find relief from seizures but possibly stop this disease from taking their life.
Mothers like Renee Petro should not have to bury their children. Fortunately, Petro has a great amount of determination, and I believe she will do whatever needed to improve her son’s life. I hope that doctors continue to overcome the obstacles put in place by politicians standing in the way of legalizing medical marijuana so that people like Branden and his family can stop living in fear of the unpredictable disease that is epilepsy.
Caitlin Malone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.