Eligible Texans with uncontrolled epilepsy have a new option to treat their seizures.
A South Austin dispensary will begin selling medical cannabis oil to patients who qualify next week. On Thursday, for the first time, a medical cannabis company in Schulenburg delivered the oil to a Central Texas patient.
People affected by epilepsy say access to the medication could greatly improve their lives.
“Epilepsy has completely hijacked our lives,” said Terri Carriker, whose life was turned upside down when her 3-year-old baby girl Catherine had her first seizure.
“She developed typically until then. We had no idea this was around the corner for us and within about probably 3-4 months she had lost a good bit of language, she lost some motor functions, just the impact of the seizures was pretty strong on her,” Carriker said.
Since that day, Terri has tried everything to treat Catherine’s condition. She has been prescribed every seizure drug on the market, had a nerve stimulator implanted, switched to strict, specialized diets and had three brain surgeries.
“She still has daily seizures,” said Carriker.
Terri provided videos to show the harsh reality of what Catherine goes through every single day.
“They're very hard to watch,” Terri said.
Each seizure is a reminder that Catherine’s time could be limited.
“We don't talk about it very much, but we live daily not knowing if we're going to go to get her out of bed in the morning and she's not going to be with us any longer,” said Carriker.
Unfortunately, the side effects of Catherine’s medications can also be overwhelming and sometimes even life threatening. “Catherine started developing liver failure when she was 5 years old, that was the worst. One of the main drugs that she's on now carries a black box label for aplastic anemia, which is basically organ failure for the bone marrow,” Carriker said.
Then, hope. Terri saw a video of a young girl from Colorado who suffered from epilepsy and was able to help control her seizures with the use of cannabis-based oil. “I think I sat and cried for about 30 minutes after I watched it, because here's something that potentially has great hope for our family and for other kids here in Texas, and I got really excited, I was like, ‘Wow, there's something that might help,’ and then I thought, ‘Oh, we can't have it,’” said Terri.
In 2000, medical marijuana laws in Colorado allowed epileptic patients access to cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, but Texas was still a long way away from allowing any kind of medical cannabis program.
Terri considered moving her family to gain access to the medication, but it didn't make sense for them financially. Then, in 2015, there was a breakthrough in the Lone Star State. Texas lawmakers passed the Compassionate Use Act allowing patients with incurable epilepsy, who have a prescription from two doctors, to join a registry and purchase low THC cannabis-based medicine.
“I was in the gallery when they made the final vote, with a group of moms that we advocated side by side, and we were all elated. It was very exciting to see that board light up green,” said Carriker.
But access to the medication was still more than 700 days away.
“We were like, ‘Oh, two years.’ And the hard part is, there are children that have passed away in those two years that could've benefitted from this program,” Carriker said.
Over the next two years, the Texas Department of Public Safety approved three businesses that applied to provide CBD oil. One of them, Compassionate Cultivation, built a dispensary in Manchaca.
“We'll be the first dispensary in Texas,” said Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation.
After receiving final approval from DPS, staff at his facility planted the first seeds on Halloween. By January they were ready to harvest.
“We're looking for good flower production, resin production, and when we harvest, we just take branches off the plant,” said Taylor Kirk, director of cultivation at Compassionate Cultivation.
By law, the plants grown in Texas facilities must be low in the psychoactive ingredient THC, meaning it won't create a high like recreational marijuana.
Instead the CBD is extracted, and turned into oil that can be ingested to produce a calming effect on the brain. “Here's this plant that can produce a very pure form of medicine that has very few side effects,” Denton said.
There's only one week to go before Compassionate Cultivation begins selling CBD oil in Texas,
Terri said Catherine’s doctors are already on board. “We actually were able to try a whole plant product earlier. Catherine had several days a week seizure free,” said Carriker.
She only wishes the medication had been available sooner.
“If we had been able to stop Catherine’s seizures when she was three, she may have been able to retain some of her cognitive and physical function that she's lost along the way. So, to have a product available for the next Catherine coming up, it’s very rewarding to participate in that process and to see that come to fruition,” Terri said.
Medical professionals say although CBD has been known to help some patients with uncontrolled epilepsy, it won't work for everyone.
By law, dispensaries in Texas must also provide reasonable access to patients who can't travel to the facility. That means people in other cities or those without transportation will be able to have the oil delivered.