Brian O'Neill: Parents put some passion into medical pot

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Some children in Pennsylvania are being tortured by their own bodies, and relief could take only a show of hands and the stroke of a pen.

Yet if you think our state Legislature will move quickly on the question of medical cannabis, you must be high.

Not much makes sense about this state's, or this nation's, marijuana laws. The federal government has taken a drug that is less addictive than alcohol or tobacco -- one on which it's impossible to overdose -- and lumped it with heroin and LSD as a "Schedule 1" drug.

That means it's supposed to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.'' The American Medical Association asked Uncle Sam to review that classification more than four years ago. The Pennsylvania Medical Society -- while explicitly opposing legalization of marijuana for recreational use -- also wants to see that designation eased so the medical possibilities of cannabis might be rigorously tested.

There is growing evidence that it can help with everything from epileptic seizures to post traumatic stress disorder. That's why 20 states and the District of Columbia have OK'd medicinal marijuana. One arm of the federal government even has issued a patent for a particular cannabis breakthrough, saying its antioxidants are useful in the treatment of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases -- despite the Drug Enforcement Administration keeping the weed in that No. 1 all-evil category.

It might all be comical, a worthy theme for a Jeff Spicoli rant in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High: The 30th Reunion,'' if the effects of dawdling on this weren't so damaging to children and others with chronic pain.

Three mothers of children with epilepsy testified Tuesday morning before the state Senate Law & Justice Committee. One mother couldn't testify herself, but had her story read by another, because her 10-year-old had to be rushed to a hospital with a seizure.

Deena Kenney of Bethlehem ran through the list of 17 anticonvulsant medications that her 17-year-old son has been prescribed since he was an infant. These are deemed OK by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though one contained warnings of two potential side effects: going blind and the skin becoming permanently blue.

Ms. Kenney said one of the prescribed drugs sent her son into violent rages, attacking her and throwing things at her with the intent to kill. She began wearing a helmet at home, which she took into the hearing room to show the senators.

Her anger was palpable because she knows that in Colorado, a particular strain of cannabis that isn't smoked and can't get anyone high has worked wonders with children like her son. It has essentially ended chronic seizures for many children there. Applause broke out in the hearing room when Ms. Kenney testified that Pennsylvania law does little to keep marijuana from getting into the wrong hands, "but it prevents it from getting into the right hands, which is ours.''

Legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach, a liberal Democrat from suburban Philadelphia, and Sen. Mike Folmer, a conservative Republican from Lebanon, would change that. Josh Stanley, whose company grows the no-buzz cannabis in Colorado, told the committee this legislation was as good as he has seen for ensuring that the permissible products would be for medicinal purposes only.

The irony of doing nothing is that these afflicted children are getting high every day with pharmaceutical products whose side effects are frightening if not life-threatening, and the FDA is fine with that. The same is true for combat veterans who are supplied with stress-relief pills to the nth degree by Veterans Affairs hospitals, but can't light up a joint to relieve their anxiety without risking jail time.

The latter is a dicier issue, as there are health risks associated with smoking too much of anything, and dosages aren't so easy to monitor, to name just two concerns. But a cannabis oil that hasn't enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to get anyone high?

All you have to do is say the word "marijuana'' and some minds snap shut, but Mark Rosenfeld, founder of a company that has done research in Israel, Canada and China that it can't legally do here, testified about this cannabis product: "This is not marijuana. This is hemp.''

Costco sells hemp seeds now. It just doesn't sell a strain that would do these children any good. They'll continue to suffer -- and get high on oxy-whatevers -- if Pennsylvania can't find a way to get them what they need.

Brian O'Neill: or 412-263-1947.

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