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Federal legislation would provide vital protection to patients

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My brother Tommy has suffered from severe seizures caused by intractable epilepsy since he was six months old. Now 23 years old, he has been on life support 42 times, been Medevac’d seven times, tried hundreds of medication combinations, followed specialty diets and even undergone brain surgery. Yet his seizures remained uncontrolled.

The lengths that our family went to in order to provide Tommy with any form of relief are beyond imagining. Not only did many of the addictive medications prescribed to my brother leave him incapacitated, but he has also been left with lasting adverse side effects from some of his procedures, such as the Vagus Nerve Simulator (a technology that at the time had not yet been approved by the FDA for children) he had implanted in him as a child. These treatments, undeniably excruciating for him, have also taken a toll on our family.

Last year Tommy became involved in a federally approved trial for a high CBD pharmaceutical. CBD, or cannabidiol, is an oil extracted from the cannabis plant. Since starting this treatment, my brother has experienced fewer seizures, better sleep, and improved cognitive function and awareness. He has been put on life support far less frequently and has begun to relearn skills his heavy medication regimen and seizures caused him to lose.

My family is grateful for any improvement in his condition and remain open to all forms of treatment that show efficacy. Tommy has improved, but he has now been put in an awkward position.

Because any form of cannabis is illegal at the federal level, any patient who uses medical cannabis legally under his or her state law as well as in compliance with a doctor’s recommendation is still breaking federal law and is thus susceptible to prosecution. Doctors are also hesitant to pursue this treatment, and many refuse to even discuss medical cannabis with patients for fear of losing their medical licenses.

Our representatives in Washington have a historic opportunity to address this discrepancy between federal and state policy that has left many fearful and confused. A bill currently in the United States Senate, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act would protect any individual using medical cannabis legally under state law from federal legal action.

We need our Senator from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, to show leadership on this issue by co-sponsoring this bill. Sen. Tillis has been a proponent for more research on medical cannabis, and the CARERS Act has a provision reducing federal barriers to researching this treatment.

Last year, Sen. Tillis became a cosponsor of another bill that would remove CBD from the list of controlled substances. While this was a welcome nod to the many who have experienced relief from CBD, it ignored the many more whose symptoms, unfortunately, have not been mitigated by this compound. Studies show that when medical cannabis retains all of its chemical compounds, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its healing properties can be stronger – a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. The CARERS Act, unlike the CBD bill, has provisions for all types of medical cannabis.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee to which the CARERS Act has been assigned, Sen. Tillis can be a voice for not only Tommy, but all medical cannabis patients.

In the past, Senator Tillis has remarked on the contradiction of the legality of using opiates with a prescription while medical cannabis remains illegal. Indeed, it is puzzling, and my family can attest to the significantly safer treatment experience that medical cannabis has provided to my brother. Furthermore, in an age when prescription opioid misuse has resulted in tragically high levels of overdose and death, anything our government can do to provide safer alternatives is crucial.

My family is grateful that Tommy has been able to experience a small dose of relief. We hope that policy makers will take the opportunity to improve quality of life for every family’s “Tommy” across our country.

Ashley Elder lives in High P oint, NC. !

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