- In many countries, the legalisation of medical cannabis has the face of a child: Graciela Elizalde in Mexico, Billy Caldwell in the UK and Jacobo in Colombia.
- These children, who suffer from a chronic disease and whose parents have found in cannabis a way to improve their quality of life, have been the first to obtain a license for the legal use of medical cannabis in their home countries.
- Meet these patients and their families and discover when and how they were granted the license to use their medication without legal consequences.
Underage, suffering from different types of epilepsy and treated with cannabis, these children are creating history by contributing to the legalisation of medical cannabis in their home countries. The last case was that of Billy Caldwell, a British child to whom the Minister of Home Affairs, Sajid Javid, 'gave back' the CBD oil he had bought in Canada and which had been confiscated from him at Heathrow Airport. Billy's story made the headlines worldwide last July, and marked a turning point in the medical cannabis laws in the UK: as of autumn 2018, British physicians will be able to legally prescribe medical cannabis, as was reported this summer by the minister himself.
This case is the latest one, but before Billy other minors contributed to the relaxation of medical cannabis laws in their own countries. Most of them suffer from a form of epilepsy and, after years of unsuccessful treatments, their parents have turned to cannabis as a last resort to reduce their children's daily seizures.
Charlotte Figi, the youngest CBD patient in the U.S. (2013)
This American little girl is probably the most famous CBD patient in the world. A CBD-rich strain bears her name, and thanks to the 2013 CNN report by world-renowned Dr. Sanjay Gupta featuring her case, the benefits of cannabidiol spread like wildfire. Charlotte was born in Colorado and was a seemingly healthy baby, after a few months, though, she started to develop seizures. It took a while for doctors to realise the underlying cause was Dravet's syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that could cause Charlotte to suffer up to 300 seizures a week, even affecting her vital organs. She was prescribed all sorts of treatments, including a high-fat diet, but nothing seemed to work - quite the opposite, as some drugs affected her breathing and even her heart rate, which dropped dangerously low.
This little girl suffering from Davret's syndrome is the youngest patient to have been treated with cannabis derivatives in Colorado
Far from being content with just accepting the explanations from doctors, Charlotte's parents started to look for alternatives, and by the time the girl was five, his father came upon an Internet video documenting how an epileptic child controlled his seizures with CBD. The Figis saw various doctors in Colorado - cannabis was already legal in that state - only to be told that they had never treated a patient the age of Charlotte with cannabidiol. But since all other treatments had failed and at that point there was nothing to lose, they agreed to give cannabis a chance. No sooner said than done, Charlotte's parents embarked on the search of CBD-rich buds - not exactly a common product six years ago - a journey that took them to a dispensary in Denver, were they were informed that nobody really cared about those flowers. They bought the whole stock anyway and had an expert extract the cannabidiol into an oil concentrate.
You can imagine Charlotte's parents' surprise when they gave their daughter a few drops of CBD oil and saw the girl experienced no seizures in the following minutes, which eventually turned into hours. They continued the treatment and Charlotte had no seizures for days. Impressed by the effectiveness of the homemade drug, the Figis focused on finding CBD-rich plants with little THC - the psychoactive compound in cannabis - and eventually met the Stanley brothers, a group of growers that knew how to breed a strain that met Charlotte's needs. Charlotte's Web, the strain that bears the girl's name, was taking shape.
This case provided empirical evidence on the effectiveness of CBD in treating Davret's syndrome, and attracted many parents with children suffering problems similar to Charlotte's to Colorado, where, thanks to this little girl, a considerable number of doctors have tried the innovative treatment on humans. Now, nearly a decade since Charlotte's first dose of CBD oil, the U.S. have allowed the sale of Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug aimed at curbing the symptoms of child epilepsy and the first cannabis-derived treatment to be approved by the FDA. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Figis sowed the seed of federal legalisation of cannabis in the U.S. when all they wanted was to improve their daughter's quality of life.
Graciela Elizalde, the first license for the legal use of medical cannabis in Mexico (2015)
The story of this girl from Monterrey, Mexico, is very similar to Charlotte's. Grace, as her parents call her, was born with the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare neurological disease that manifests itself as epileptic seizures, among other symptoms. In an effort to control them, doctors prescribed her one unsuccessful treatment after another, prompting Raúl Elizalde to look for alternatives. This is how he learned about Charlotte and the way CBD had reduced her seizures. Grace parents resolved then to try the treatment on Grace, only to find that the product was unavailable in Mexico.
In 2015, Grace became the first patient to obtain a license from the Mexican government allowing her to use a cannabis-derived drug, and in 2017 the use of medical cannabis was legalised nationwide.
Accordingly, they petitioned the government for an import license for CBD, which was granted to them in 2015. By way of explanation, Patricio Caso, consultant at Cofepris (Mexico's Federal Commission on Protection against Health Risks), said in an interview that the government had agreed to import a CBD-based drug for Grace because hers was "one of those cases where a patient has already tried all the treatment options available in Mexico". "In the case of this specific drug, which contains an active substance called cannabidiol, the regulatory framework allows for the granting of the import license, again, for this particular case and on medical prescription," the consultant added.
After being treated with cannabidiol, Grace's health condition improved dramatically, to the point that her parents formed the foundation Fundación por Grace, aimed at advocating the responsible use of medical cannabis and at supporting families faced with medical challenges similar to their own. Since then, plenty of other people have jumped on the bandwagon of CBD's benefits, turning the exception that proved the rule that medical cannabis was illegal in Mexico into the rule. Prescription medical cannabis is legal in Mexico since 2017.
Billy Caldwell, the forerunner of legalisation in the UK (2018)
The story of this child affected by severe epilepsy is the most recent one, and has marked a true turning point in the UK's drug policy. In fact, in a matter of days, Bill's mother got the minister of Home Affairs himself, Sajid Javid, to announce in Parliament that the boy had been granted an emergency licence so that he could get back the cannabis oil the border guards had confiscated from him.
Billy had been using cannabis oil since 2016 as it had proved the most effective way to keep his seizures under control. This summer, however, when he was coming home from Canada with his mum - they had travelled there to get the medicine - custom officers confiscated the oil from him at Heathrow Airport on grounds that it was a derivative of an illegal substance. In the following days, Billy's seizures got more acute and frequent, urging his mother to issue a plea on social media so that the boy could get his medicine back and stop suffering.
Such was the impact of Charlotte Caldwell's Facebook messages, that the minister of Home Affairs announced in Parliament, after meeting with the Chief Medical Advisor to The Government, Sally Davis, and with the Substance Abuse Advisory Council, that Billy would get his medicine back, and that physicians would be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis where appropriate as of autumn 2018.