Medical marijuana all but halts Colorado 6-year-old’s chronic seizures

(Photo: MGN Online)

(Photo: MGN Online)

By Stephanie Wolf
For KDVR.com

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For most of her life, 6-year-old Charlotte Figi has suffered from 20 to 60 seizures a day due to an incurable genetic disorder called Dravet Syndrome. After the use of medical marijuana, Charlotte has shown dramatic improvement.

A lengthy feature in an edition of this week’s Colorado Springs Gazette chronicles the youngster’s difficult journey.

Charlotte’s parents, Paige and Matt Figi, said the daily seizures made it impossible for Charlotte to have any kind of normal existence. The family had tried a number of remedies, like a special diet and dozens of prescribed medications, to combat the seizures. But each treatment exhibited negative side effects.

While the diet appeared to ameliorate the seizures at first, the strict food restrictions prompted bone loss, plunging Charlotte into a preliminary stage of osteoporosis. She also suffered from respiratory, ear and bladder infections. The drugs put stress on her organs and some of the medications caused her to stop breathing.

Paige and Matt said they had reached a stage of desperation. When the suggestion came to try a less conventional approach to their daughter’s disease, both were willing to overlook the controversial implications of a 6-year-old using medicinal marijuana.

Because little research on medicinal marijuana usage for children existed at the time, finding doctors to treat Charlotte presented a challenge. But Paige persisted. Eventually, she found two doctors, Dr. Margaret Gedde and Dr. Alan Shackelford, to sign for a medicinal marijuana license and treat Charlotte.

Shackelford told The Gazette the Figis had exhausted all other options. While he understood there were risks involved with treating Charlotte, he said “In her case, it seemed worth a try.”

Charlotte was prescribed and still takes a strain of marijuana specially bred for pediatric patients. Now named “Charlotte’s Web” to acknowledge the success of its first patient, the strain is low in THC, the ingredient that gets people high, but contents high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), which attributes to the medical properties of pot.

Charlotte doesn’t smoke the marijuana. Rather, her mother administers it to her twice a day, using a syringe to squirt the prescribed amount under her tongue.

“In six years, this is the only thing that has given us this type of success with no side effects,” Paige told The Gazette.

Charlotte no longer takes medication and hasn’t displayed any negative side effects from the medicinal marijuana. While there may be little research on the long-term effects of Charlotte’s medicinal marijuana usage, the Figis are just happy to see their daughter functioning, let alone living a life somewhat akin to a normal 6-year-old.

They would like to spread the word of medicinal marijuana’s effectiveness to other parents of children with Dravet Syndrome or similar diseases. Yet, with federal drug laws restricting access to it and the government not providing support for clinical studies, further research through FDA-approved trials does not exist.

Despite these setbacks, the Figis continue to advocate medicinal marijuana because it has reinstated some semblance of normalcy to their lives.

“Look, it’s just factual what’s happening with her,” Paige told The Gazette in response to some of the disapproving comments she has received about the controversial treatment. “This is a working therapy. She’s eating, drinking, sleeping all night — that’s unheard of with these kids.”

One of the youngest medicinal marijuana patients in Colorado, Charlotte’s astonishing progress has attracted national recognition — The Gazette reported that CNN coverage is in the works.

To read more about Charlotte Figi’s miraculous turnaround, visit the Gazette.com.