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'We need this now:' NC parents seek marijuana oil for children with seizures

Posted February 24, 2014
Updated February 25, 2014

— Zora Carlin had her first seizure when she was 6 months old. Her parents cried and prayed as they watched their daughter convulse, but the horrifying sight soon became a regular occurrence in their Johnston County home as the girl began suffering up to 40 seizures a day.

Five years later, Zora’s parents say they have exhausted all options and are hoping oil from a marijuana plant can help their daughter – a medication that is illegal in North Carolina.

“It’s hard. It’s very hard,” said Dawn Carlin, Zora’s mother. “You just sit there and watch her (having seizures).”

Zora, now 5, has a rare, hard-to-treat and debilitating form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome for which there is no cure. Her parents say they have tried 14 different medications, various diets, vitamins and supplements, but they’ve had little to no effect on their daughter’s condition.

“You start losing hope, and then you hear there’s something out there that changes it, but it’s illegal,” said Steve Carlin, Zora’s father.

The medication – an oil extracted from a specially grown marijuana plant – is legal in Colorado, where the medicine has shown great promise in children in the same situation as Zora. The cost varies by the child's weight and can range from less than $100 per month to several hundred dollars.

“My heart’s breaking because my daughter can’t get this right now,” said Steve Carlin, who says his family is not able to move west to get the medication.

Raleigh mother Liz Gorman moved to Colorado in December so that her 7-year-old daughter, Maddie, could get the medication, called Realm Oil, which she swallows a dropper full of three times a day. At her worst, Maddie was averaging about 100 seizures a day before the move out west, according to her mother.

“As far as her development is concerned, it does feel like a miracle,” Gorman said. “Her morning cluster that used to have 30 (seizures) in it … that went away almost immediately/"

"The biggest changes we’ve seen are in her alertness, her awareness and her ability to learn new tasks," Gorman added. "And she has made more progress in one month with fine motor skills than she’s made in five years."

The Gormans are paying a hefty price to find something that will help their daughter. There's the emotional cost – Gorman's husband stayed behind in Raleigh for work – and then there’s the financial burden.

“It feels pretty ridiculous that we would have to move across the country to access this medicine, especially given the results people are seeing,” Gorman said. “So, what are we saving it for if not for something that could potentially really change our daughter’s life?"

"I hope legislators will pay attention," Gorman added. "I hope other parents in North Carolina who want this will contact our legislators, because I think that’s what it’s going to take."

WRAL News traveled to Colorado, where Jordan Stanley and five of his brothers are growing a special strain of the marijuana, called Charlotte's Web. The strain is named after 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, one of the early success stories. She went from having 1,200 seizures a month to about three or four.

“There are no negative effects we’ve seen. Even though it may not do the miracle for someone else’s child like it does for Charlotte, it’s still giving them a better quality of life,” Stanley said. “(It’s) something that is natural, something that doesn’t get them high, something that has no psychoactive effect.”

People who take the oil don’t get high, Stanley says, because Charlotte's Web has extremely low levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Recreational marijuana averages about 15 percent THC and can be as high as 25 to 30 percent, Stanley said. Charlotte's Web has 0.03 percent THC.

“There is absolutely zero effects of them getting high whatsoever,” he said.

Charlotte's Web does have extraordinarily high levels of cannabidiol, known as CBD, a non-psychoactive component, which research shows has a growing number of therapeutic benefits.

“It’s almost unbelievable it’s working that well for these families,” said Stanley, who says he is providing the oil to more than 200 people.

Dr. Yael Shiloh-Malawsky, a pediatric neurologist at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, says the CBD oil is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, for someone like Zora, it’s worth giving the medication a try before it is approved, given the severity of her disorder.

Without some kind of improvement, Shiloh-Malawsky says, Zora is at a higher risk for SUDEP, Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy.

“This is one of the reasons that we’re in great urgency to try whatever we can to help control her epilepsy better,” Shiloh-Malawsky said.

“We need this today. We need this now," Steve Carlin said. "(Zora) doesn’t have time. She doesn’t have time to wait. Tomorrow can be her last day.”

The Carlin and Gorman families say they are not interested in legalizing medical marijuana in North Carolina, only the oil extract. They say the side effects from their daughters' prescribed medications are often worse than the seizures themselves, adding that the drugs are mind altering and developmentally delaying.

“One medicine, (Zora) would bang her head and scratch herself until she would bleed," Dawn Carlin said.

They continue to hope the marijuana oil will be available in North Carolina soon.

“I try not to get my hopes up too much about anything, but this is the first time in a long time that I’ve really been able to feel truly hopeful,” Gorman said.

GW Pharma currently has Epidiolex – cannabis oil – in trials for treating epilepsy, but it is not expected to make it to market until 2019.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 27, 2014

    Republicans/Conservatives/Tea Party, here is another opportunity for you to *show* us...and not just *tell* us...that you are pro-freedom, pro-liberty and for less government.

    Stop opposing this. Stop your Big Government ways...if you can.

  • Mods Hate Me Feb 26, 2014

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    Understood, I admit that I didn't have time to comb through the 100 comments.

  • Michael Clemmons Feb 25, 2014
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    No, realistically if it ever becomes legal in NC it will be years away. If she knows of a treatment that will help her daughter and she chooses to complain instead of taking action then she is bordering on neglect. Our first priority as a parent is the life we brought into the world above all else. The only thing keeping her from getting the treatment she wants is geography and her own apathy!

  • tri1234 Feb 25, 2014

    For those who say "why don't they move" I'd like to point out that until about 55 days ago a family with a sick child couldn't risk losing a stable employment situation that provided good health insurance. Because of the ACA, families with sick children have more choices. However, if you are looking out for 20 or more years and you've still got a crowd in congress yelling to repeal the ACA, it might make someone remain cautious about the best care options for their children.

  • Geez Louise Feb 25, 2014

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    --And the police would have more time to catch people who really endanger our lives every day like those going 90mph down I-40.

  • Geez Louise Feb 25, 2014

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    --Well said.

  • Billy Smith Feb 25, 2014
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    See kids Marty marijuana is good for you. Smoke it peremptorily every day with your friends.

  • Maurice Pentico Jr. Feb 25, 2014
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    FULLY agree!

  • Objective Scientist Feb 25, 2014

    To those who oppose "legalization" of marijuana to any degree... do you oppose the extraction of beneficial substances from the plant to use for medicinal purposes? We already use many compounds from the earth itself, plants, animals, insects, etc. for such purpose. Why not extract the ingrediants in marijuana that SCIENCE has found to be benefical for various illnesses and make those available in pill or liquid form?

    On the other hand... to those who feel that "smoking pot" should be legalized and anyone should be free to use it anywhere, anytime--- I can't buy that either. Use of marijuana can - CAN - result in impairments that can make the user a danger to themselves and to others. That may not happen for the user who smokes it everyday after work, at home, and does not go out afterward until the next day, but for those who smoke and drive - it can be a danger. A good study found that lateral position (crossing center line) on the highway is not maintained well by pot smokers

  • wflamm Feb 25, 2014

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    Exactly! I've lived here all my life and makes me embarrassed to call this my home.