Colorado has been in the spotlight for a number of years surrounding the reform and liberalization of cannabis use. In both medical and recreational markets, there has been continued growth in public support. For many communities, marijuana has become part of the landscape, integrating like any other industry. Residents in less than legal states, where laws for using or possessing cannabis still carry felony charges, are becoming increasingly curious about this changing tide.
One of the ways this curiosity has manifested is via the media frenzy surrounding one of the most famous CBD strains in the known galaxy: Charlotte’s Web. After a CNN special report/documentary came out describing the journey of a young girl experiencing persistent seizures where CBD helped the condition, parents began moving to Colorado to give their kids medical marijuana for their seizures.
Changes in Pediatric Patient Volumes
While Colorado does not require the tracking of families who move to the state and, once they have established residency, have enrolled their kids in the medical marijuana program. While there is good evidence Colorado has seen an influx of cannabis refugees seeking treatment for their children, there is no certain way to measure the number of families who have done so. The Guardian estimates over 400 families from the US and abroad have traveled to Colorado for such a treatment, including families from Spain, Ireland, Australia, and Iran.
Charlotte’s web is a CBD-rich strain of cannabis which has virtually no THC, is not psychoactive, and is, in some cases, dramatically effective at treating seizures. Subsequent the national coverage of “Charlotte’s Web” on CNN in 2013, pediatric patient volumes boomed for a few years and have since leveled out. For the sake of statistical analysis, pediatric patient mean individuals under 21 (you’ll see why when we get to the research section).
In December 2012, prior to the special CNN report, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE) reported only 37 patients 18 or younger. At the time, CDPHE did not report patients by age group, except to remark on average age and the number of patients under 18. In total, there were over 108,000 patients in 2012. In December 2014, over a year after CNN aired their report on parents in Colorado giving their kids marijuana for seizures, moving families and state residents began exploring marijuana-based treatment options with an invigorated zeal. By December 2014, the number of patients under 18 had risen to 462. Including patients between the age of 18-20, the child or young adult population being treated with marijuana rises to 6,491.
In December 2016, the number of patients under 18 had dropped to 318, with 60% of those patients being age ten (10) or under. The total number of patients under 21 has dropped to 3,743.
The Continued Exploration of Marijuana Science
Many of the parents are at their ends, bothered deeply by the lack of adequate treatments for their child by the time they get to considering cannabis. As a treatment, marijuana has gained social momentum which, by virtue of federal law, has not been studied in a way to adequately satisfy the concerns of doctors or — on the legal side of things — Congress. In an effort to address this, CDPHE and the 13-member Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council have created a number of grant opportunities for statewide health facilities to conduct research or gather information.
Since 2015, the CDPHE has awarded $9 million in grants to researchers, including over $3.4 million for pediatric-related studies. Of the $3.4 million, over 1/3rd of the funding is for epilepsy-related study. Children’s Hospital Colorado, where all the research grants have been sent, has created several programs to allow for the limited use of cannabis products in a medical setting (not smoked or vaporized). The products must be administered by their designated caregiver (aka, their parent or legal guardian) and the patient and their caregiver must be registered with the state.
In lieu of the type of information necessary to evaluate the long-term effects on health, memory, learning, and other social or cognitive processes in patients under 20, Children’s Hospital Colorado has opened several studies which can include inpatient (at the hospital) clinical review or information gathering outside the office, such as through a seizure diary and monthly check-ups. When parents move to Colorado to give their kids marijuana, seizures or a related disorder and cancer are the main diagnoses experienced by the minor patients.
Currently, there are two epilepsy research programs being administered out of Children’s Hospital Colorado. The first of the two requires patients to record their dosage information and keep a seizure journal. Monthly visits for a total of four (4) months require the patient submit a blood sample and complete a questionnaire. It is offered to patients between the age of one (1) month and 20 years. The other study, beginning in 2015, aims to review the efficacy of CBD in epilepsy, as well as how a child processes CBD through the body and how CBD effects seizures and related disorders.
Reducing the Barriers to Information
Over half the country now has medical marijuana laws and several other states have adopted a policy allowing CBD use. Despite widespread access to hemp oil, a legal hemp product often containing CBD, the barrier to research funding implicit of marijuana’s continued Schedule I status (were not even cocaine is scheduled!) in the Controlled Substances Act is also a barrier to new information.
While Colorado and some of the other legal marijuana states have worked out research funding through tax revenues, but it is not even a drop in the bucket compared to what pharmaceutical companies spend researching health and safety outcomes of a new medicine.
The boom in parents moving to Colorado to give their kids marijuana for seizures or related neurological disorders has dropped off, yet Colorado is still a haven for the study of pediatric marijuana use for medical purposes. For residents in states or countries where CBD is considered illegal, Colorado remains an opportunity to find a treatment for their child AND help the world better understand the effects of cannabis. As the Denver Post puts it, Colorado is the state of hope.