Raleigh, N.C. — A Senate panel on Wednesday approved a measure to allow the use of CBD oil for medical treatment of seizure disorders.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana. The oil is being increasingly used by doctors to treat intractable seizure disorders, especially in children, for which other therapies are ineffective and often toxic themselves.
"This is going to give them an opportunity to move forward and get on with their lives," said Steve Carlin, whose 5-year-old daughter, Zora, has Dravet syndrome, a rare, incurable, debilitating epilepsy disorder.
"I'm on my knees here. I'm begging you," Carlin told members of the Senate Rules Committee.
House Bill 1220, which cleared the House last week, has faced opposition from some who say it would open the door to legalizing medical marijuana in North Carolina. But sponsor Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, said the plant used to make CBD has been genetically engineered to produce a lot of CBD but very little THC, the psychotropic substance in marijuana.
"There is no way this is going to be something a drug person wants," McElraft said, noting someone could drink a bottle of CBD oil without getting high.
The bill doesn't even mention what McElraft called "the M-word," because the marijuana plant has been altered so much to produce CBD that it's legally considered hemp.
Under the bill, which is expected to be debated Thursday on the Senate floor, families and their neurologists would have to register with the state to possess and administer the CBD oil. The Senate proposal also would require the physicians to participate in a state pilot study of the effectiveness of the treatment on seizure disorders.
The law also calls on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, Wake Forest University and East Carolina University to work with the registered neurologists on clinical studies of the CBD oil. Universities also could start growing hemp to conduct research on the plant itself.
Neurologists on the state registry would be responsible for bringing the CBD oil into the state to dispense, and senators questioned how that would work since it might have to pass through jurisdictions where it is considered illegal.
McElraft said she believes the federal government is "looking the other way" on CBD oil and its medicinal uses.
Noting some North Carolina families have moved to Colorado, where the treatment is legal, and would want to return home if lawmakers approve the measure, she said she hopes the state wouldn't pursue criminal cases against them if they brought any CBD oil back with them to last until the registry and pilot study are set up.
McElraft also noted that the state could save money by legalizing the CBD oil, saying that caring for each child who suffers debilitating seizures costs the Medicaid program about $125,000 a year.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the gruff chairman of the Rules Committee, choked up as he told lawmakers immediately after the panel passed the bill that his oldest son suffered a seizure 20 years ago while the family was on a trip.
"If I can do anything to help any parent not have to experience that night or what these families experience daily, we're going to do it," Apodaca said.