Like many of you, I’m a busy mom with a fast-paced, high-stress job — and that’s outside of the home. My first job is being a mom to my two wonderful children, and with that comes all of the worry and pressure we feel every day as we try to do right by our children and guide them to become strong, independent, caring and successful adults.
Here’s what makes my story unique: My 7-year-old son, Ben, has severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy and is a medical cannabis patient. Ben has suffered thousands of seizures in his short life, and approved anti-seizure drugs alone did not reduce his seizure burden. I first learned about medical cannabis from another parent of a child with epilepsy. Recent studies have confirmed research from the 1970s and ’80s that one particular component of medical cannabis, Cannabidiol (CBD), can work as an anticonvulsant in some types of epilepsy. Not only can CBD be an effective anticonvulsant and potent anti-inflammatory agent but it also lacks the psychoactive effects commonly associated with recreational cannabis consumption. Today, my son finally experiences some relief from a treatment regimen that includes CBD.
Discovering that CBD was an undeveloped potential anticonvulsant that might help thousands of children changed the course of my career. I’m now the clinical research director for Tilray, a medical cannabis company that provides patients with access to safe, reliable and consistent products to treat a wide variety of ailments. Medical cannabis has been a hot topic in the news and is now more widely available than ever before. Some form of medical cannabis is legal for patients in 25 American states and in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, where Tilray’s production facility is located. Plans to establish federal medical cannabis programs are currently underway in Germany and Australia, and voters in five more American states will decide whether to legalize medical cannabis in the November election. These reforms will aid in providing much-needed access to medical cannabis treatment options for patients desperately in need of an alternative to currently available treatments for some serious diseases.
For Ben, and for thousands of children like him, medical cannabis is not “pot for tots,” as it’s sometimes been called by the media, or an illicit drug that parents provide their children irreverently. Rather, it can be a critical part of the child’s treatment regimen that dramatically improves quality of life. I only wish my son could have accessed it sooner because it may have prevented some of the catastrophic developmental delays caused by the thousands of seizures that he has experienced throughout his life.
The reality is that medical cannabis products are not a panacea but can, in some cases, significantly improve disease-related symptoms and, potentially, the outcome of disease. To understand the full benefits of medical cannabis, we need to do more studies. Physicians and researchers need to carefully document cases of medical cannabis use to identify whom these products benefit and whom they do not. It’s only by gathering methodologically sound data on all patients that we’ll be able to destigmatize medical cannabis and know how best to incorporate its use into treatment regimens. Medical cannabis is not something to be taken lightly. To use it effectively requires careful oversight by a physician, and for serious cases like my son’s, it is often part of a larger treatment regimen.
There is no single type of medical cannabis patient. Patients of all backgrounds use medical cannabis to relieve symptoms from a wide array of medical conditions, including epilepsy, arthritic pain and nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. In most cases, very little data exists to guide appropriate treatment, which puts patients and physicians in the difficult position of using cannabis products through trial and error. I’m a staunch advocate of gathering the data physicians and patients require to make informed treatment decisions. The more data we can amass, the better we can treat patients.
The potential therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis products should no longer be denied by mainstream physicians. The potential benefits are too significant to dismiss outright. The medical community has a responsibility, at the very least, to document medical cannabis use in patients suffering from severe diseases and disease-related symptoms.
My goal as a clinical researcher is to expand on current research in order to continue to help thousands of children and adults around the world find relief and treatment for their specific conditions. My goal as a mother is to continue to provide all the support my children need to thrive during their childhood and grow up to be caring, independent, productive and happy citizens of the world. A critical piece of this support is advocating for the most beneficial treatment options for my son’s disease. The two jobs, and their goals, go hand in hand.
Catherine Jacobson holds a PhD in neuroscience, and is the director of clinical research at Tilray, a global leader in the medical cannabis industry, focused on cultivation, production, research and patient services, and serves thousands of patients in Canada, Australia and Europe.