12-year-old with epilepsy pushes Washington DC to change medical marijuana policy

Eight states also allow prescribed medical marijuana in school.

September 28, 2019, 11:21 AM

Zoey Carty was diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy when she was 6 months old. Zoey was having 10 seizures a day and, on the advice of her neurologist, she was treated with phenobarbital, a common drug for epilepsy.

But Zoey’s mother, Dawn Lee-Carty, was unaware of the drug's side effects. Two weeks later, she realized the long road ahead when Zoey began to have an adverse reaction. For years, their lives centered around medications, doctor’s visits and numerous hospital admissions. And the frequency of the seizures only increased.

Then, in 2016, -- when Zoey was 8 years old -- Lee-Carty flew to Colorado to learn all about cannabidiol oil after watching an interview about medical marijuana. She said it had a dramatic impact, and that Zoey’s seizures decreased by half.

Washington D.C., where the family lives, allows the use of medical marijuana to those with a license. But the family hit a roadblock when Zoey, who just turned 12, was told that her charter school would not permit the drug to be administered on school grounds.

Earlier this month, in response to Zoey's case, the city council passed the "Student Medical Marijuana Patient Fairness Temporary Amendment Act of 2019" -- emergency legislation to clarify existing law and ensure that qualifying students can be given medical marijuana by a school nurse.

With its passage, Washington D.C. joins eight states that have put a similar law on the books -- though the number is a fraction of the 33 states -- in addition to the District of Columbia -- that allow medicinal marijuana at all, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Eight minors in Washington D.C. hold medical marijuana licenses, according to to the Washington Post, which cited data from the district’s Department of Health.

PHOTO: A vendor weighs buds for card-carrying medical marijuana patients attending Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market at the West Coast Collective medical marijuana dispensary.
A vendor weighs buds for card-carrying medical marijuana patients attending Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market at the West Coast Collective medical marijuana dispensary.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

“Medical marijuana works different from typical prescribed medications,” said Dr. Anand Dugar, an anesthesiologist and the owner of Green Health Docs. “Medical marijuana binds to the endocannabinoid system which is present throughout the body. Typical prescription medications do not bind to this system and instead affect other receptors in the body.”

According to Shane Khalepari, the Regulatory Affairs Coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, several states like California are currently reviewing their policies to allow medical marijuana on campuses.

“Medical marijuana should be treated as an EpiPen, where a physician can administer the medication to students,” Khalepari said. “Cities and States need to take the necessary steps to give the appropriate access for seriously ill children.”

Zoey's mother first became aware of cannabidiol oil in 2016, when Zoey was 8 years old and Lee-Carty saw an interview about medical marijuana. After she traveled to Colorado, Zoey eventually got a prescription. Within a month, Zoey’s seizures had decreased by fifty perfect, her mother said.

“Zoey was having up to 65 seizures a day while she was on prescribed medication,” Dawn-Lee Carty said. “The doctors couldn’t get them to stop and she had exhausted all of her pharmaceutical options.”

Now, Lee-Carty grows medical marijuana for her daughter and has made it her life’s mission to advocate for its use. She founded SpeakLife, an organization that supports research and the legalization of the drug.

Lee-Carty said she is now struggling to obtain a license for herself.

“It’s a struggle every day,” Lee-Carty said. “But I have a beautiful little girl who is my best friend. I will continue to fight for her.”

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