It’s a rearkable transformation. Even a shocking one. Especially considering the unlikely remedy. Six-year-old Tyler used to be tormented by hundreds of painful seizures a day. Which would leave him absolutely exhausted at bedtime. Even so, his doting mother would still have to pin him down to his mattress until he fell asleep. Otherwise, his small, frail body would continue to thrash about, robbing him of any rest and respite.
“Now he sleeps through the night, because he’s having far fewer seizures,” says single mother, Angele Vanier, 32. “It’s amazing how much progress he’s made over the past several months. He has a new lease on life.”
Tyler is one of Canada’s youngest medical marijuana patients. He suffers from cerebral palsy. And he has a seizure disorder called Lennox Gastaut syndrome. This debilitating paediatric form of epilepsy typically worsens as a child ages and can even become life-threatening.
Tyler’s mother turned to cannabis in desperation, after seeing media stories about how it has helped other children in the U.S. with similarly debilitating conditions. She now administers him one gram of cannabis a day — half in the morning and the rest in the evening — in the form of a paste that she makes by cooking the cannabis with coconut oil.
And it’s been a godsend, she says.
Until a few months ago, Tyler used to experience clusters of up to 80 seizures at a time, with each event lasting up to five minutes, or longer. Now his seizures are far fewer and of much shorter duration.
Living on social assistance, Vanier used to struggle each month to come up with the $400 a month she needed to legally buy cannabis from a federally-approved licensed producer in Ontario – one her doctor had originally referred her to.
“As a single mom, the cost became a big deal for me to manage,” she says.
So she recently switched her legally-designated provider to another licensed producer, Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis. It offers “compassionate pricing” at $5 per gram for financially-challenged customers. Now Vanier only spends about $200 a month.
Even at the much lower cost, the province of Ontario still refuses to pay for her son’s medicine because cannabis has not gone through the standard federal approval process for conventional prescription drugs.
However, it’s been legally available to patients in need throughout Canada since 2001 following a landmark ruling from Canada’s Supreme Court.
Vanier says her son’s herbal medicine should therefore be financed by the Ontario health-care system. The government already pays for the range of anti-epileptic drugs that Tyler has relied on since infancy. But they’re far more expensive and, in Tyler’s case far less effective, Vanier adds.
Even though Tyler still requires prescription pharmaceuticals, Vanier has been able to steadily reduce his dosages now that the medical cannabis is working so well, she says.
This is a big breakthrough, Vanier declares. And in spite of the out-of-pocket costs, what she refers to as an “herbal medicine of last resort” is proving to be worth every penny, she says.
“In fact, Tyler’s doing fantastic on his cannabis treatment,” she adds. “The alternative is more ‘meds’ that come with side effects and can become ineffective over time because Tyler builds up a tolerance to some of them.”
Since he started to be administered cannabis, Tyler has become far happier, more energetic and physically stronger, she says. Prior to that, his medications would make him weak, tired, irritable and depressed.
“Most importantly, his light is bright again. He’s so much happier and aware of what’s going on around him.”
What’s particularly beneficial to Tyler is that the specific strain of cannabis that she is buying — which is called Temple — is non-psychoactive, meaning that he doesn’t get “stoned,” she says.
The Temple strain contains virtually no THC, the mood-altering substance in marijuana, but features an extremely high concentration of another substance known as cannabidiol, or CBD.
“This high-CBD content in Temple allows Tyler to be far more alert than he used to be (than on a previous, different strain with a much higher THC content),” she says. “This way, he’s far more relaxed. And it helps him sleep better, too.”
The U.S. federal government is financing several dozen clinical trials into the efficacy of CBD as a treatment for a diversity of medical conditions. They include Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, opiate addiction, Crohn’s disease, schizophrenia and cancer.
The cultivation of non-psychoactive, CBD-rich/low-THC strains is a big step towards many peoples’ acceptance of cannabis as a legitimate form of medicine. This is according to Dr. Jonathan Page, an adjunct professor of botany at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
A world-renowned expert on the chemistry of marijuana, Page says CBD-rich oil is gaining greater acceptance among parents and doctors as an appropriate treatment for paediatric seizure disorders, including epilepsy.
Vanier is one of these parents. And she’s grateful to have found a natural medicine with minimal side effects, that isn’t becoming less effective over time.
“Offering Tyler a better quality of life is what anyone would want for their child,” she explains.