Medical Marijuana for Children

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A 5-year-old Arizona boy, Zander Welton, has been approved to use medical marijuana to help control seizures. Representative John Kavanagh, who opposes medical marijuana use by children, and Dr. William Troutt, who supports use of medical marijuana by children, will discuss the issue

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. 5-year-old Zander Welton of Mesa suffers from seizures caused by a genetic brain defect. The child's parents applied to have their son treated with medical marijuana by way of marijuana oil drops, and that application has been approved. But the case raises questions about exposing children to marijuana. Joining us now is state representative John Kavanagh, who says medical marijuana can harm children. And speaking in favor of medical marijuana for kids is Andrew Myers, campaign manager for Arizona's most recent medical marijuana initiative. Good to see you both here, thanks for joining us. All right. The idea of a 5-year-old granted the ability to use medical marijuana. A bad thing?

John Kavanagh: A very bad thing. Look, the FDA has not approved marijuana for the treatment of any condition whatsoever. And no major national medical association of physicians has said it should be used to treat anybody. You have a few rogue state organizations, but it's not FDA approved, no major medical organization approves it. The American Academy of Pediatrics says don't give it to children, and a new study in the last week says it is extremely dangerous for children. I would read two sentences from the author, which sum it up. "Data from epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown an association between cannabis use and subsequent addiction to heavy drugs and psychosis, that is schizophrenia. When the first exposure occurs in younger versus older adolescents, the impact of cannabis seems to be worse in regard to many outcomes such as mental health, education attainment, delinquency, and the ability to conform to adult roles."

Ted Simons: I want to get back to those studies in a second, but a 5-year-old medical marijuana, a good thing?

Andrew Myers: I don't think what we're discussing here is whether giving medical marijuana to a 5-year-old is a good thing. It's whether it's the best of the available options. And just to touch quick upon national organizations and support medical marijuana use, the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, the British Medical Association, among many others support use of medical marijuana for variety of conditions. In the case of this child, I spent about an hour on the phone with his father, and he gave me a rundown of what Zander has been through over the last few years with his condition. The medications he is currently on and have already taken are so much more dangerous for him than marijuana could ever be. And the outcomes and the available treatment for him are getting so narrow, at this point marijuana is the best option. For instance, let me continue, Depakote, a drug he was taking before causes liver problems, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, hair loss, blur and double vision, ringing in ears, unsteadiness and weight changes. He was admitted to the hospital for organ failure when he was on that medication. For him the next step if the cannabis treatment does not work, he's going to have the entire left hemisphere of his brain detached in order to be able to treat this. Right now we're considering options between drugs that were killing him, literally, cutting his brain off from the rest of his body systems or trying something that might work.

Ted Simons: If it helps with debilitating seizures for a 5-year-old, why not?

John Kavanagh: Nobody knows it helps. You just don't flip a coin and guess. The United States has the safest prescription and nonprescription drug program in the world. Because we don't allow snake oil to be peddled. Before a drug can be given to the public, studies have to be shown that convinces the FDA, research doctors, statisticians, pharmacologists that it's safe and it's effective. Marijuana has not passed the hurdles for any condition whatsoever. And I heard the doctor of this poor child on TV and the evidence she gave to give this child this dangerous drug which can have very bad effects, was, quote, "anecdotal evidence." That means rumor or stories that it helps some people. You don't treat patients based on that kind of flimsy evidence, contrary to the FDA and every major medical association.

Andrew Myers: The truth of it is that off-label often experimental treatments are tried with patients in dire medical situations all of the time, including Zander. This is a family at the end of their rope. I would actually ask those who would deny his ability to pursue this treatment, is having the left hemisphere of his brain shut off a more preferable option than using a natural remedy that even if it is dangerous, even if there may be negative side effects associated with marijuana, they are -- They pale in comparison to the side effects of the current he's currently getting and won't be felt for many years. Right now we have to treat the condition at hand. We have a child who is dying from this condition and must be treated.

John Kavanagh: Drugs can be used off-label, but those are approved. And marijuana snot approved. When they're used off label it has to be with the concurrence of the medical community. One of the problems I've learned at the legislature is when you try to make law based on a really unusual case, this poor child is an extremely unusual case. I don't deny the fact a case like this maybe we should have a medical committee or procedure which would allow this use. But certainly this child's condition does not justify that the 21,000 people on medical marijuana right now in Arizona, many of whom seem to be faking pain.

Ted Simons: We'll put that 21,000 over here we'll keep the 5-year-old over here. If it provides any relief whatsoever, is it a bad thing? 5-year-old with debilitating seizures.

John Kavanagh: Oxycodone could give relief, heroin, if you're going to pick among drugs where there's no evidence this helps, no reliable evidence --

Ted Simons: If oxycodone and heroin provided relief would you be against a child taking those particular medications?

John Kavanagh: Oxycodone is a legal prescription drug that could be used. If a doctor said yes, then it's legal and I would not object to that.

Andrew Myers: I think we're getting -- We're showing how ridiculous the debate is around this now. We're saying we ought to give heroin to a child before we would give marijuana to a child to treat a condition --

John Kavanagh: I didn't say that. I said they shouldn't give heroin because it's not approved. Like marijuana is not approved.

Andrew Myers: Getting to the research, there are five distinct areas of medicine where marijuana has been shown time and again to be effective. And to get the research done has to be a priority for the medical industry, but we have a situation where the federal government says we cannot use this because we don't have the studies to be able to prove its effectiveness. But then they do not all lout studies to proceed. And they catch medical marijuana and its treatment in a Catch-22, but there have been many studies, many of them double blind that show marijuana is effective in treatment of nausea, the treatment of pain, particularly neuropathic pain, in the treatment of spasms and seizures, like in the case of this child; in the treatment of anxiety and the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer's. There's a large study of 60 coming out of Israel this year showing exceptional results for dementia patients.

John Kavanagh: Not one of these studies, not one has passed the FDA's hurdle. That's what protects from us snake oil. And alluding to studies that the FDA considers inadequate is not a justification to use a drug. There is research being taken place, University of Arizona is doing research. I supported a bill to allow more research. The day that medical marijuana is shown by the FDA to treat a condition then we won't need dispensaries because a person can have a legitimate doctor to dispense it and go to a regular pharmacy to get it.

Ted Simons: If marijuana were legal that would change as far as were you concerned. Medical marijuana is legal in Arizona.

John Kavanagh: By legal I mean legal in terms of the FDA allowing it to be prescribed as a drug.

Ted Simons: You have to have those -- You have to have that OK from certain, what, agencies, from certain hierarchies --

John Kavanagh: In this country, before anybody can market a drug, it has to be proven scientifically to be safe and effective. That's how all of your drugs get to the marketplace. To protect you. Marijuana has never passed the hurdle for any condition.

Ted Simons: Do you believe medical marijuana or this oil which we don't even know if this oil is legal, we're finding out because it's a derivative of medical marijuana it may not pass muster legally, but do you believe this would be more harmful to a 5-year-old child with this condition than the other therapies the child is taking now?

John Kavanagh: I don't know. And quite frankly I would leave it to medical experts, the FDA, their pharmacologists, their researchers, their statisticians. They're impartial experts who look at the evidence objectively and not with the emotion of a distraught father or the politics of someone who wants to legalize marijuana.

Ted Simons: Wait for folks who are experts in the field to say this is safe, this is effective?

Andrew Myers: I think we should listen to experts. The experts in the field that have studied this have been overwhelmingly clear that medical marijuana is effective. What the representative wants to us do is wait for a federal government agency that is influenced heavily by the pharmaceutical companies, not to approve a drug that cannot be patented. I think we need to remember that. We would like to believe all government agencies are equal and just when they hand down these decisions, but corporate interests have a lot of control over these types of decisions at the FDA level.

Ted Simons: Gentlemen, good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Andrew Myers: Appreciate it.

John Kavanagh:Representative, Arizona;Andrew Myers;Campaign Manager

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