COURTESY OF VALERIE NAURETH
Arik, four, suffers from epilepsy. CBD oil helps.
Valerie Naureth says she’d be willing to break the law to save her son Arik, age four. And that could mean that Naureth, who lives outside of Columbia, Missouri, would be regularly driving to Colorado to buy a hemp extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, and illegally bringing it back to treat Arik's severe epileptic seizures.
It all depends on what happens in the coming weeks to a measure working its way through the Missouri House of Representatives.
Sponsored by Representative Jean Evans (R-Manchester), House Bill 1007 would make it easier for families to obtain the extract, expand the list of serious medical conditions for which it can be prescribed, and boost its potency by increasing allowable THC levels. CBD hemp oil is a dietary supplement touted for a wide range of benefits, including as a natural pain-reliever and for reducing the symptoms of many diseases, including Crohn´s disease, gastric ulcers and central nervous system disorders, such as Alzheimer´s and Parkinson´s. It comes from the marijuana plant, but it is not psychoactive; it is impossible to get ¨high¨ from it.
But even if HB 1007 passes, Naureth doubts it will survive a ride through the Senate. The reason: the fierce opposition of state Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis). Earlier this year Onder, a physician, successfully blocked a Senate version of the measure. If Onder succeeds again in thwarting expanded access to CBD, “I would probably illegally buy it and bring it to my home instead of uprooting my family,” Naureth says. “I know that sounds really terrible. But I shouldn’t have to do that because this is our home. I’m not going to uproot my family. But I will illegally purchase it at some point in time if I had to, because they wouldn’t pass it.”
In contrast, Sarah Lango says she would be willing to move her family to Colorado to ensure her sixteen-month-old daughter Avery can access CBD in doses strong enough to treat her potentially fatal seizures, which can last more than two hours.
CBD oil with higher concentrations of THC would be more effective in controlling them, according to Lango, who lives in Creighton, about an hour southeast of Kansas City. But as long as legislation remains stalled, her daughter can’t legally obtain the hemp extract she needs, Lango says.
“It suddenly feels very frustrating to know that her life and her health are in the hands of someone who doesn’t know her or see what she’s going through,” she says.
Onder, a physician who specializes in allergies and asthma, says he supports allowing CBD oil to be used to treat kids with epilepsy. But the earlier Senate bill permitted its use for a list of conditions including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and AIDS. That's a bridge too far, he says.
Much of Onder's opposition stems from the fact the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved CBD products as a treatment or cure for any disease.
“And I do have some problems with the state eventually usurping the FDA approval process and endorsing the use of anything for a non-approved medication,” he says.
Onder’s continued opposition to HB 1007 could also mean big problems for Missouri’s nascent medical marijuana industry.
The state has licensed two facilities in the state. Both are located in west St. Louis County —- BeLeaf in Earth City and Noah's Arc Foundation in Chesterfield – and both may only manufacture and sell CBD oil.
But both are hampered by the fact that state law permits only neurologists to prescribe CBD oil in Missouri. HB 1007 would allow physicians of all kinds, not just neurologists, to prescribe it.
This would make it far easier for many more families to qualify for state medical marijuana cards, says BeLeaf's Mitch Meyers. A former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive, Meyers launched BeLeaf, Missouri’s first medical cannabis cultivation center and dispensary, in January 2016.
“So if the child’s pediatrician knows this child has been suffering from epilepsy for five years,” Meyers says, “they can say on the form ... 'yes this person has epilepsy.' If that would happen we would have many more physicians that could help us help people get cards.”
That would be good for business, Meyers acknowledges. But it would also help patients who are suffering. Passage of HB 1007 would “allow us to at least break even and keep going to support the patient base,” she says. “These people are all going out of state and just buying stuff on the Internet and they have no idea what they’re getting.”
Even if the measure dies in the statehouse, supporters hope to collect enough signatures to place on the November 2018 ballot a constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis.
New Approach Missouri, the sponsor of the signature-gathering campaign already underway, is hoping to learn from mistakes that kept the initiative off last November's ballot.
While polls showed that nearly two-thirds of Missouri voters favored medical cannabis, failure to gather enough signatures in St. Louis County doomed the proposed amendment, keeping it off the ballot for at least two more years.