Marijuana bill could improve children's lives

Clinical trils of cannabidiol oil can start if General Assembly can get past marijuana stigma.

newsroom@islandpacket.comFebruary 28, 2014 

While South Carolina passed legislation in 1980 to allow the Department of Health and Environmental Control to start clinical studies of medical therapeutic uses of marijuana, no money was ever directed to the effort, and no programs were ever started.

More than 30 years later, no one can say exactly why the effort never got off the ground. But Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, suspects it has something to do with the hesitation of socially-conservative lawmakers and their constituents to spend public dollars on researching an illegal drug that can deliver a mind-altering high.

These days, science is increasingly revealing that there's much more to the drug than an illicit state of euphoria. Clinical studies in New York and other places are opening eyes about the potential of cannabidiol oil, an extract of marijuana plants. The oil does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive part of the cannabis plant, so there is no high.

But there are benefits that can greatly improve the quality of some children's lives. When administered orally with a syringe dropper, the oil can, in some cases, drastically reduce the number of seizures suffered by children with complex epilepsy cases. It may help Mary Louise Swing, a 6-year-old who lives in Mt. Pleasant and suffers between 20 and 60 seizures an hour despite being on two medications. Without medication, Mary Louise grapples with a terrifying 200 seizures an hour.

She cannot walk or sit independently. She needs help to stand up. She must be strapped into a feeding chair to eat.

Out of desperation, her family is considering a move to Colorado where Mary Louise can legally receive the cannabidiol oil.

A bill, sponsored by Davis, aims to allow Mary Louise to get the oil right here in South Carolina. And we urge lawmakers, including those in the socially-conservative Upstate, to sign on.

The legislation, which goes before a Senate subcommittee March 13, would rework the old 1980 law and create a research program within DHEC for CBD oil, and perhaps other forms of medical cannabis, to be used as anti-seizure medication. MUSC would begin CBD oil clinical studies through the program -- and children including Mary Louise would qualify to receive the oil. Only those participating in the trials would receive the drug.

Many big questions remain about how the program would work. Specifically, we want to know the cost of such a program and what role S.C. taxpayers would play.

Davis said Thursday there are several potential pots of money including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that hands out clinical dollars, DHEC itself, which is interested in pursuing clinical studies but would likely need additional state dollars to accomplish the task, MUSC where trials would be conducted as well as the families whose children would receive the oil and their insurance companies.

Between these four entities (and perhaps others yet to be fingered) it seems likely that a program could be set up to benefit S.C. children suffering from seizures without overburdening taxpayers.

It also offers South Carolina a chance to participate in an exciting medical front, exploring the curing potential of the oil. State legislatures in Georgia, Kentucky and Utah are considering bills to allow the trial use of the oil for childhood seizures and other ailments.

We hope wrong-headed notions of recreational pot smoking will not stand in the bill's way. This is one of those much-sought-after humanitarian opportunities where elected representatives can help S.C. children and families. We hope they seize the opportunity.

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