SALT LAKE CITY, UT — A bill to give children with epilepsy access to a cannabis extract has cleared its first major hurdle at the Utah Legislature, despite opposition from the Utah Medical Association.
The House Law Enforcement Committee voted 8-2 on Friday to send to the House the measure affecting children suffering from Dravet syndrome.
The legislation would legalize the use of non-intoxicating cannabis oil taken from marijuana plants. The extract contains extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes users feel high.
More than a half-dozen parents testified in support of the bill, saying cannabis oil has been observed to halt seizures in children who have exhausted all other remedies.
Barbara Kohler of Lehi, whose 10-year-old son, Peyton, has Dravet syndrome, said she’s ready to try the hemp oil because the prescriptions he takes don’t fully work and have severe side effects.
“I feel like it’s safe — hemp oil. They can’t get high off it. It’s not smoke. It’s not something that, at this time, has been shown to have any harmful side effects, and I’ll take that over the medication that I already know,” Kohler said.
But Michelle McComber, a representative of the Utah Medical Association, said legislation should be scientifically based, not based on anecdotal evidence. The association maintains there have not been enough clinical trials and scientific evidence to legalize the use of hemp-oil extract.
“This is not the right venue or the process. We simply don’t have enough evidence. This is not good legislation,” McComber said.
Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, a doctor, said the bill is asking a legislative body to do something the FDA can’t do.
But Rep. Gage Froerer, the bill’s sponsor, reminded his colleagues that most of the children had a short life expectancy without some change. Small studies have shown the extract can reduce the amount of seizures epileptic children experience daily, he added.
Jennifer May of Pleasant Grove, whose 11-year-old son can suffer hundreds of seizures a day and has a life expectancy of 18 or younger, agreed. Children suffering from Dravet’s don’t have a lot of time to wait given their life expectancy, she said.