A quick internet search yields scores of websites touting cannabidiol or CBD oil as an aid to relieve pain and anxiety, minimize epileptic seizures, protect brain neurons, halt cancer growth, treat acne and more. But reaping benefits can still be prosecuted as a crime, even when Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — marijuana’s psychoactive component — is absent.
Layton resident Colette Hadlock said she uses the non-THC CBD oil as an all-purpose pain reliever and stress reducer, “so I can think more normally, be happier, kinder and more organized.”
“It makes my system function better to help my body heal,” Hadlock said of the enhanced well-being she attributes to the oil’s use.
Hemp is a form of cannabis with little or no THC. And for some, its use can be life-altering.
Doug Rice of West Jordan credits CBD oil for giving him more quality time with his daughter, who began to suffer epileptic seizures in her teens. Rice serves as a board member of TRUCE Utah (TRUCE stands for Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education) and vice-president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah.
“For Ashley, it reduces the severity and duration of her seizures,” Rice said.
Before Utah lawmakers passed the narrowly tailored Charlee’s Law in 2014, Ashley suffered one to two dozen seizures per day, some lasting two minutes or longer. But Charlee’s Law allowed Rice to get a hemp extract registration card so Ashley could try the non-THC CBD oil. And that usage actually halted her seizures for awhile.
“Now (in her mid-20s) she’s up to three or four per day that each last 30 to 90 seconds,” Rice said. “And each seizure affects brain tissue, causing damage.”
Rice said Ashley now fares better with THC as part of her CBD oil regimen. “If we add to 2 to 5 milligrams of THC to 25 milligrams of CBD twice per day, we see seizures drop to total control or only one per day,” Rice said. Products containing THC can be purchased legally from dispensaries in Colorado, so excursions to the nearby state gave his family the opportunity to test their effects.
“We’re a lot more active now,” Rice said, pointing to a recent three-week motorcycle trip he took with his wife and daughter across the U.S. “We pretty much have our child back. She’d now give you a hug and kiss — but under pharmaceuticals she was a zombie. She sat there in a catatonic state ... the child we see now is happier, healthier and more robust.”
Since passage of the Controlled Substance Act in 1970, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has classified cannabis as a Schedule I illicit drug alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy. And marijuana still ranks a notch above highly addictive Schedule II pharmaceuticals that include Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol, OxyContin and fentanyl.
But as awareness and demand for the plant’s benefits spread, states began legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational use — or both. According to governing.com, 29 states and the District of Columbia have such laws on the books. And in California, adults 21 and older can grow up to six plants in their homes.
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In spite of a robust public push to legalize medical marijuana here in Utah, lawmakers voted against it. Now, citizens organized as the Utah Patients Coalition have taken the matter into their own hands in hopes of putting a detailed ballot initiative to voters in November 2018.
The passage of House Bill 105 or Charlee’s Law in 2014 allowed patients with epilepsy to purchase registration cards so they could possess CBD oil with less than .3 percent THC without fear of prosecution. But in hindsight, the legislation fell woefully short in addressing the broader need for medical cannabis.
“HB105 started from a group of Utah County moms and families across the state that were dealing with epileptic children and their seizures,” said Rep. Gage Froerer, a Huntsville Republican who served as the bill’s main sponsor. “Some of the families had used Charlotte’s Web (produced in Colorado) and found it to be effective in reducing the number of seizures for their children. But under state and federal law they could still be pulled over and thrown in jail because hemp federally is still illegal.”
But Charlee’s Law signaled the start to the medical marijuana discussion here in Utah, Froerer said.
Rice currently buys Charlotte’s Web, an artisan hemp extract oil manufactured by the Stanley Brothers in Colorado. He said he pays $275 for a 100 milliliter bottle that provides 5,000 milligrams of CBD and lasts about 90 days. Less concentrated and less expensive CBD oils can be purchased in local health food stores and smoke shops, but some of those contain only 75 to 125 milligrams of CBD, Rice said, and are mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut or olive.
Heather Jackson was instrumental in the passage of Charlee’s Law. Her son Zaki is now 14 and was one of the first patients to benefit from Charlotte’s Web.
“My son started using CBD products a little over five years ago, and he was receiving hospice prior to that,” Jackson said. “His condition went into remission right around three months of use back in 2012, and I realized the need to formalize an organization that could help families and physicians access this as a means of therapy.”
Her Colorado nonprofit, Realm of Caring, now tracks more than 40,000 patients around the globe and partners with major research institutions to collect information about the impact of cannabis therapies.
“It’s how I make sense of a decade of trying to keep my kid alive. I have a great respect for families who are out of options and doing all they can to help their children,” Jackson said. Her one regret is not discovering CBD oil sooner. “What if we had found this early on and avoided those years of suffering,” she said. But she quickly moves on, because many families need her help.
On Wednesday, Nov. 15, preliminary survey results from registration card holders were presented to the Health and Human Services Interim Committee on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
Since July 2014, a total of 231 annual registration cards have been issued — 134 to patients under 18, and 97 to patients 18 and over. At the end of this October, 119 patients still hold active cards.
The 12-question survey, compiled by the University of Utah’s Division of Pediatric Neurology, was sent to 139 patients who registered for cards between July 2014 and October 2016. Of that number, 46 responded and 41 had started taking hemp extract. Of that 41, 20 were under 18 and 21 were 18 and older.
Of that group of 41, 22 percent of respondents under 18 reported that their seizures were almost completely controlled and 40 percent said seizure severity was also “quite a bit better.”
Conversely, among respondents 18 and older, 22 percent reported no reduction in seizure frequency and 40 percent said seizure severity showed no improvement.
But overall, 85 percent of respondents under 18 and 56 percent of adult respondents reported some improvement in seizure frequency and severity.
Only nine reported adverse effects (fatigue, diarrhea, moodiness, coordination problems and either increased or decreased appetite), while 27 cited benefits such as improved sleep, improved speech, and being happier, more alert and more social.
When asked if there could have been a better way to gather the data, Dr. Francis Filloux, U of U’s Pediatric Neurology Division chief, said they were constrained by federal HIPAA rules and lacked permission to contact participating families. But Epidiolex, a CBD product manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, is currently undergoing clinical trials here in the U.S.
Annette Maughan, former president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah, said her son Glenn participated in an Epidiolex study at the University of Utah after Charlee’s Law passed.
“Our little results showed better than 50 percent response and 50 precent reduction in seizures,” Maughan said. “Our boy showed 80 percent reduction, and his congiitive improvement has beeen substantial.”
Maughan — who recently moved to Maryland — regrets the limited reach of Charlee’s Law, but said that was the only way proponents could get the measure to pass.
“We did try to get it for more people when we were lobbying for Charlee’s Law, to make it more available for more conditions,” Maughan said. “But we were told to limit to epilepsy or they’d kill the bill.”
But now she fully supports Utah’s drive to legalize medical cannabis and would like to see approval of 1:1 ratios of THC to CBD.
“I’m absolutely a strong supporter of a fully codified medical marijuana program. But you can’t just say that anyone can manufacture it and provide it to the public,” Maughan said.
Is hemp extract legal?
It all depends on whom you ask. In 2014 the U.S. Congress passed the Farm Bill which allowed a state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp with up to .3 percent THC for the purpose of conducting research. But Utah has yet to jump on that bandwagon.
“Utah is in a prime moment in time to lead out on this, and they’re missing it,” Maughan said, noting that Utah State University had been willing to conduct that research but the state’s Department of Agriculture has yet to set up the hemp cultivation program.
In February, the nonprofit Brookings Institution weighed in on CBD and federal law, stating that even with the 2014 Farm Bill, its strict rules about how hemp can be grown in the U.S. outlaw cultivation for commercial purposes. Brookings concluded “one thing is clear: in order for a truly CBD-only product to be declared legal, other laws would need to be amended.”
But CBD-only manufacturers see enough ambiguity in the law to continue their work. Ogden resident Ken Barnes owns and operates CBD Infusions, selling a THC-free tincture available online at www.cbd-infusions.com or for in-person purchase at Gourmet Vapor, 1167 W 12th St. #3, in Ogden. As a disabled Veteran who served in the Middle East, Barnes said he jumped at the chance to do “something bigger than myself.”
“What i’m doing is self gratifying,” Barnes said. “A lot of guys at my age who have walked similar paths have a different story.”
The hemp he uses is grown in Northern Europe, processed in the U.S. and then received by his company in an herbal-concentrate form to disperse into different mediums. His top product contains 900 milligrams of CBD per 30 milliliter bottle, and retails for $105 to $115 for approximately 360 doses.
“We only used industrial hemp plants grown for CBD purposes only, so we can have a presence in every state,” Barnes said. “We offer no false sense of psychoactiveness or illicit use. We wanted to separate ourselves from the stigma.”