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HEMP HOPES

Hemp extract bill to treat epilepsy sent to Missouri governor

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Family leaves Missouri to gain access to hemp oil treatment for epilepsy

Genny Jessee, comforts her 23-month old daughter June Jessee, after a seizure at their home, on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Brentwood. The Jessees are moving to Colorado to gain access to a treatment for June's epilepsy that's not yet legal in Missouri. The cannabis-derived oil contains cannabidiol (CBD) and low amounts of THC. June suffers from up to 50 seizures daily, and has not responded well to more conventional treatments. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle, scordle@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • A personal plea from a senator whose 9-year-old son has intractable epilepsy caused tears on the Senate floor Thursday, followed by unanimous approval of a bill legalizing a promising marijuana-based treatment aimed at helping such victims.

With the Senate’s vote, the bill to allow people with severe, persistent seizures to try an oil derived from cannabis plants as a treatment now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.

The legalization of oils high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that creates the “high” experienced from marijuana consumption, is part of a national trend. The CBD oil has shown promise in treating children with intractable epilepsy.

The bill, which unanimously passed the Missouri Senate, would strictly regulate the production and distribution of CBD oil. Only two nonprofit companies would be licensed to grow cannabis plants and produce and distribute the oil to registered patients. A neurologist would have to certify the child or adult had already tried at least three other treatments.

The bill also includes provisions for the state’s agriculture department to make rules to test the plants to make sure they are high in CBD and below 0.3 percent THC and audit the licensed centers.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, told a hushed chamber that his son had his first infantile spasm at 11 months old and a four-hour seizure when he was 2 years old.

“He was convulsing uncontrollable, foaming at the mouth, the bedspread was wet. It was a terrible moment for us,” Schmitt said. “There was nothing anybody could do. I remember holding his hand and praying.”

Schmitt said Stephen was “maxed out” on all of his medications and that after looking into the CBD oil as a treatment, it sounded like a good option.

“The hardest part is the fear. The fear that you live with that the next one could be that four-hour one — or worse,” Schmitt said. “The promise of CBD oil is real ... I don’t know if this will work. We’ve had hope before. It might or it might not.”

Clinical trials on a CBD extract are underway in the U.S., but they are limited to particular locations. The drug derived from marijuana plants is produced by a British-based company called GW Pharmaceuticals, and FDA clinical trials are being conducted at six U.S. locations.

Some lawmakers expressed concern about the lack of FDA approval for CBD oil. Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, opposed the bill and said he was concerned there was not enough medical evidence that the treatment works. He said there could be harmful side effects and that the best route was to do controlled clinical trials.

“We should gather accurate information on whether this is snake oil or the magic pill we’ve been looking for,” Schatz said.

The bill allows the state’s health department to set up clinical trials.

Jones said he introduced the bill after hearing the story of a personal friend and lobbyist. Matt and Genny Jessee are moving to Colorado so their daughter June can try the CBD oil. June has intractable epilepsy.

Jones has emphasized that the bill is not related to medical marijuana. Supporters of broader legalization of medical and potentially recreational marijuana hailed the hemp oil bill as a positive step. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said during debate that the bill acknowledged the medical potential of cannabis plants.

“This is a remarkable step given how far we’ve come,” Holsman said. “The day is coming when that prohibition will end... (This bill) is the first step and I wholeheartedly support it.”

Holsman introduced a broader medical marijuana bill that would not have restricted THC content and allowed use by patients with more afflictions beyond epilepsy. It passed out of committee but has not been taken up by the full Senate.

The bill earlier passed the House 136-12.

The bill is HB2238.

Marie French is a reporter in the Jefferson City bureau. You can follow her on Twitter @mre545.

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