Garrett Brann is about to turn 3 years old. He has a form of epilepsy, known as “Dravet Syndrome,” which is robbing him of his childhood, a normal life and so much more. The disease manifests itself primarily in almost constant seizures. Garrett routinely has more than 100 seizures, of varying degrees of intensity, every day.
Garrett’s story is obviously sad, but what makes it truly tragic is that there is a treatment which could very possibly end Garrett’s seizures and allow him to live a normal life. However, because that treatment is a derivative of marijuana, he is not allowed to have it.
As a result of these frightening and damaging seizures, Garrett’s brain does not rest long enough to develop normally. He, like all children with Dravet’s, suffers from severe cognitive underdevelopment, which only gets worse with time. He used to be able to feed himself and speak, but he has lost those abilities. He can no longer walk consistently and frequently falls. As a result, Garrett’s parents have had to rush him to the emergency room repeatedly for stitches and other medical treatment.
Garrett can’t run, climb steps or jump like a normal 3-year old. He receives occupational, physical and speech therapy, but makes no real progress in any of these areas as the Dravet’s continues to run its often fatal course. In an effort to ameliorate the seizures as much as possible, Garrett is currently on a highly toxic and addictive three-drug regimen. These drugs are known to cause liver damage. One of them is not covered by insurance and costs the Brann family thousands of dollars per year.
The treatment that could help Garrett is known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after the first little girl with Dravet’s whom it helped. Charlotte, like Garrett, suffered from nearly constant seizures. Also like Garrett, nothing seemed to help Charlotte until she was given the marijuana-based oil. The results were miraculous.
Charlotte’s seizures went from hundreds per week to less than one. She is now developing normally and has regained much of what she lost when she was seizing all the time. Similar results have now been seen in dozens of children with Dravet’s. On YouTube or at CNN.com you can find a full report on Charlotte’s Web by CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.
The miracle treatment is a tincture of oil that comes from a specific strain of marijuana. It is important to know that marijuana contains two active compounds. The first is tetrahydrocannabinol or “THC.” This is the part of the plant that is an intoxicant and makes you high. The other active compound is known as cannabidiol or “CBD,” which cannot make you high. The strain of marijuana used to create Charlotte’s Web is packed with CBD and contains almost no THC. So the oil that could help Garrett cannot and will not make Garrett stoned or intoxicated in any way.
If Charlotte’s Web came from a yucca plant or bacteria grown in a laboratory, it would be an absolute no-brainer. It would be easily available in every CVS or Rite-Aid in America. But because it comes from marijuana, the plant that dare not speak its name, no child in Pennsylvania can obtain, possess or use it. Garrett’s parents can fly to Colorado, establish residency, buy the oil and bring it back to Pennsylvania, but if they do they risk arrest and felony prosecution.
This is an insane policy. A few drops of a simple oil can potentially save a young boy’s life (and the lives of many others like him). The oil is not addictive, not intoxicating and has no side effects. There is no rational reason to deny this child the medicine he needs. The only thing that stands between Garrett and a normal life is fear of a word … marijuana.
For some reason, that word has the same effect on many policymakers in Harrisburg and Washington as Kryptonite has on Superman; it causes them to lose their ability to think clearly and forces them to flee in terror.
We must overcome this superstitious and unreasoning way of thinking. It is causing people to suffer needlessly, either with symptoms that could be eased, or with the side effects of drugs far more toxic and dangerous than Charlotte’s Web could ever be.
There is a little boy’s life at stake. Would our thoughtless policy on medical marijuana make sense if Garrett was your son?
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, represents District 17 in the Pennsylvania Senate (www.senatorleach.com).