Special Report: The Forbidden Cure
WEST DES MOINES, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Right now, Sally Gaer is in Washington, D.C. on a lobbying trip. The Iowa mother flew out Monday morning to fight for her 25 year old daughter and thousands of others who struggle with debilitating medical conditions. Gaer says she wants lawmakers and everyone else to know that cannabis oil is medicine and anxious parents are getting around state law to buy it.
"This is hemp," says Gaer as she displays a bottle of cannabis oil labeled "dietary supplement." "(It's) a variety of a cannabis plant." Gaer just started giving the oil to her daughter, Margaret, who has Dravet Syndrome, in the Spring.
Tediously filling capsules with the oil to make it easier for Margaret to take, she cautiously and gradually added it to Margaret's daily regimen of four anti-seizure medications and two other drugs that counteract the pharmaceuticals' side effects. She says the oil made a difference almost immediately. "Initially, right away she was sleeping better which is huge. Huge for us, huge for her. I think anytime you're sleep better you're going to do better." And she did. Margaret's speech improved along with her gross motor skills. Plus, Margaret is not having as many seizures even though they've reduced one of her pharmaceuticals by a third. "She could have 3 to 5 a week. Big ones. I'd say she's down to 1 to 2 a week." And Gaer attributes that improvement directly to the CBD oil. "Oh absolutely, yeah."
Iowa's Medical Cannabidiol Act, signed into law by Governor Branstad last year allows Gaer to possess and use the oil because she has a state-issued registration card. But the law doesn't provide any means to buy it here because it's still illegal to manufacture it.
"Getting it through the House is where we're at today," says Representative Bobb Kressig of Cedar Falls. Kressig tried to get a broader Senate-approved bill debated in the Iowa House this year but it didn't happen. Now, with
support from a Waterloo lawmaker who works in the health care field, they're going at it again in Janurary. "The best thing would be it come through a committee process and be discussed. But if not, could bring it up as an
amendment to a bill," explains Kressig. Representative Timi Brown-Powers of Waterloo works at Covenent Medical Center and is passionate about expanding Iowa's current law. "I don't even work with a lot of the epilepsy children.
We know that that's going to vastly help that population. I work with cancer patients. I work with MS patients. I work with Parkinson's patients and I work with folks with anxiety and chronic pain issues. So we know, the studies
will show you that the cannabis oil will help relieve all of those folks and help them live a more quality life."
It's working for 25 year old Jacob Gealow of Marshalltown. Gealow's parents saw his seizures drop by two-thirds in just eighty days. And that's not all. "Jakey would bruise easily. That's gone.
His cognitive has sharpened. We're talking in full sentences. He's really excelling and I'm ecstatic," exclaims Nancy Gealow.
She buys Jacob's cannabis oil the same way Sally Gaer buys Margaret's--over the internet through CW Botanicals. The Colorado-based company says it ships to forty-nine states, the United Kingdom and Canada. It claims it can
do so because the oil contains only .3% of the psycho-active compound THC. "I think if you really look at it, it's not that hard," says Gaer of West Des Moines. "It's not like we're asking for something anybody can abuse because
there's not enough THC in there to ever get anybody high. It's not hurting anybody." U.S. Representative Rod Blum agrees. "It has nothing to do really, with marijuana. It has none of the ingredients in it that marijuana has to
get a person high. It's a plant extract," explains Blum.
That's why he and two other Iowa Congressmen are sponsoring federal legislation that would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol and cannabidiol-rich plants from the definition of marijuana and treatment as a controlled substance. Says Blum, "I've always been a person that believes if you or your legal guardians think that an experimental drug can help you that why shouldn't you be able to do that. Why should the government be able to say, no you can't put this in your body."
Senator Chuck Grassley argues it's the FDA's role to make that decision after researching CBD's safety and effectiveness. "I don't think there's any question about safety," says Grassley, "but we had some evidence come out in our
hearings that indicated, and we had these from people that use cannabis oil, they said it doesn't have the same quality every vile that you buy."
"These people out there in Colorado are doing a wonderful thing," insists Nancy Gealow. "There are so many people that are being helped by this."
Lori Tassin wanted to try the oil and lobbied tirelessly for a comprehensive Iowa medical cannabis law that would help her deal with brain cancer. She died last month before getting the opportunity, angering Gaer.
"People who need it for a medical reason, cancer, like Lori Tassin that we didn't help. They need access. And they don't need it next year. They need it now,"
The director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy tells CBS 2 News that the state needs to prioritize its resources so it is not looking to arrest registered families who get their cannabis oil through the mail.
And the attorney general's office says it has not received any requests from county attorneys for prosecution. So far, 72 registration cards have been isued by the Iowa Department of Public Health.