After her Alberta doctor said he was no longer allowed to prescribe medical cannabis for her daughter’s epilepsy, mother Sandra Wilkinson travelled to Ontario to find a doctor who would.
Wilkinson received a prescription from a neurologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in 2013 for cannabis, and began extracting oil from the dried product herself to combat severe epileptic seizures in her eight-year-old daughter Mia.
The anti-convulsive medication Mia had been on previously had done nothing for her condition, a rare type of epilepsy called Ohtahara syndrome that caused up to 100 seizures a day, but since the girl had begun taking the cannabis oil her seizures had stopped for 19 months. In July, Wilkinson returned to the hospital for a renewal of Mia’s medical marijuana license, but the doctor told her Alberta Health Services policy had changed.
AHS said Health Canada has not approved medical marijuana for the treatment of seizures in Canada, and AHS is unaware of any studies, data or recognized epilepsy organizations that recommend or endorse the use of medical marijuana in pediatric patients with epilepsy.
Wilkinson appealed the decision, but was denied.
“If I don’t find a signing doctor, then I risk going to jail or having my children taken away,” she told the Canadian Press in July. “I’m not going to watch her deteriorate and seize to death.”
Wilkinson travelled from Airdrie to the Canadian Cannabis Clinic in St. Catharines where she procured another prescription for Mia.
“It’s a big relief,” said Wilkinson. “I don’t have to worry about when I run out of her meds.”
The use of cannabis products to treat epilepsy and seizures is currently being explored across Canada by many patients. Mia’s illness seems to be responding to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while others, such as Kim Turkington, report benefits from cannabidiol (CBD).
Before beginning her treatment on cannabis oil, Mia had been taking up to 40 anti-convulsive pills daily, with no effect. Director of the University of Toronto Epilepsy Research Program McIntyre Burnham said about 30 per cent of people with seizures don’t respond to any anti-convulsive medications.
Burnham plans to seek approval from Health Canada for adult clinical trials of a capsule form of cannabidiol produced by Nanaimo-based licensed producer Tilray.
While Burnham said the use of cannabidiol seems promising for the treatment of epilepsy, he cautioned it’s too early to say it should be prescribed in all cases.
“People are thinking it’s a wonder drug,” said Burnham, whose clinical trials are hoped to start in about a year. “It’s not going to be for everyone. It will help some people and not help others.”
But Wilkinson doesn’t think Mia would still be alive without the treatment.
“We would have waited for the next big seizure and she would have died,” Wilkinson said. “Now, we can all breathe.”