May 13, 2015

Senate Coalition To Introduce Bill Providing Access To Epilepsy Treatment

Washington, DC – Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with Senate co-sponsors Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Michael Bennet (D-CO), announced today they are introducing the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act of 2015 in the United States Senate to exempt from the Controlled Substances Act strains of therapeutic hemp used to fight seizures in children and adults suffering from intractable epilepsy.  

These strains, which include the commonly known Charlotte’s Web, contain less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, and have significant medical benefits due to high concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD).  

Other anti-seizure treatments are ineffective more often than not, but families have found success using therapeutic hemp oil, which is legal in the majority of states but still banned under the Controlled Substances Act. 

The conflict between federal and state law has forced many families to choose between their homes and adequate treatment for their loved ones. Gardner and Wyden’s legislation would lift federal prohibitions on this treatment option and provide access for patients across the country. The bill has the support of the Epilepsy Foundation, a national non-profit group that advocates for individuals and families impacted by epilepsy and seizures. It is also supported by The Coalition for Access Now, a nonprofit organization led by families advocating for this important therapy.  

Senators Gardner and Wyden, fellow co-sponsors, and members of families affected by the legislation will be holding a press conference on Wednesday, May 13 at 12:30 p.m. on the Capitol grounds. 

“Oregon voters have spoken clearly in favor of laws that allow the medical and recreational use of marijuana. But federal laws are out of step and needless barriers remain,” Wyden said. “Caught in the middle are kids and other patients who suffer from debilitating seizures that could be more effectively treated with easier access to medically effective CBD cannabis strains. That’s what this bill does and that’s why it’s important. This bill will make it possible for people in need to get access to a potential lifesaver and to live healthier, more carefree lives. I thank Sen. Gardner for his work on this issue and I urge all my colleagues to embrace this legislation.” 

“This bill would provide children and adults alike with access to medicine they need to treat life-threatening conditions,” Gardner said“Colorado has become a haven for people in need and parents desperate to pursue treatment for their children. Making this medicine available nationwide is the right thing to do, and would help families cope with these serious illnesses.” 

“We shouldn't let outdated federal drug policy get in the way of medicine that could make a huge difference in the lives of struggling children,” said Merkley. 

“This legislation will ensure that families of children suffering from seizures have access to treatments that can provide them with a better quality of life,” said Isakson. “The legislation also removes federal barriers for Georgia families who want to bring the cannabis oil back to Georgia in order to administer medical treatment in the comfort of their own home. I’ve always been a supporter of research and innovation as a leading driver in finding new and improved treatment options for those affected by diseases and disorders.”  

“This important legislation will help bring relief to thousands of suffering children nationwide,” Hatch said. "Cannabidiol has been shown to dramatically reduce seizures in children with intractable epilepsy. At the same time, it does not produce any sort of ‘high’ because the THC content is so low. Although I remain steadfastly opposed to marijuana legalization, I recognize that certain compounds in the marijuana plant may be useful for treating medical conditions. Where, as with cannabidiol, it is possible to isolate these compounds in a way that eliminates any sort of psychoactive effect, I support allowing people to use them to treat illness and improve their lives.” 

“Cannabidiol has shown it can significantly reduce the number of seizures for kids with epilepsy,” Bennet said. “No parent wants to see their child suffer. At the very least, we should ease these restrictions to ensure that families have access to the medicine that their kids need.” 

Background information: 

Nearly 3 million Americans suffer from "intractable epilepsy" — characterized by frequent, uncontrolled seizures that place tremendous strain on the patient, often resulting in serious physical problems including brain damage and even death.   

Charlotte’s Web is named for Charlotte Figi, an 8-year-old Colorado resident who was diagnosed as an infant with Dravet Syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy. As the disease progressed, Charlotte eventually came to suffer as many as 300 grand mal seizures in a week. After having exhausted all other treatment options and doing significant research, Charlotte’s parents tried using a low-THC, high-CBD strain of marijuana, ingested as an oil. The results were immediate and significant: Charlotte’s seizures, and their intensity, were significantly reduced. Instead of suffering dozens per day, she now suffers just a handful per month, and usually in her sleep.  

In the years since marijuana was legalized in Colorado, many individuals and families have flocked to the state in order to obtain the medicine for themselves or loved ones suffering from conditions that are treated by the drug. Legalizing this medication nationwide would prevent families from having to uproot and move long distances just to have access to medicines available in some states but not others.