Epileptic Alberta girl denied medical marijuana treatment

Medical marijuana buds.
Medical marijuana buds. Stock photo by Getty Images

Is policy more important than a child’s life? In the case of a 9-year-old Alberta girl the answer appears to be yes.

Mia Wilkinson suffers from severe epilepsy that causes her to endure as many as 100 seizures a day, despite being on anti-convulsive drugs. She took about 30-40 pills a day, but to no avail.

The only thing that helped stop them is marijuana. Wilkinson’s mother, Sandra, started her on a treatment of cannabis oil, which was purchased from a licensed grower and originally prescribed by a neurologist at an Alberta children’s hospital.

Alberta Health Services, however, has a policy whereby children suffering from epilepsy cannot be treated with medical marijuana — even if the treatment works.

Unfortunately, when Wilkinson’s mother recently tried to refill her daughter’s prescription, the neurologist refused. In desperation, the Wilkinsons travelled to St. Catharines, Ont., where a doctor there gave Mia a prescription for dried marijuana, which can be filled from a federally licensed grower.

Sandra says that without the treatment “we would have waited for the next big seizure and she [Mia] would have died.”

There are now trials going on that are exploring the seizure-stopping qualities marijuana has for epilepsy patients. McIntyre Burnham, who is not only a pharmacologist—toxicologist, but also co-director of the Epilepsy Research Program of the Ontario Brain Institute in Toronto, has developed a course of treatment with CBD, which is just another component of the marijuana plant.

He says about 30 per cent of patients do not respond to anti-convulsive drugs and that his treatment plan looks “quite promising” for epilepsy, though it doesn’t work on everyone.

Medical marijuana treatments, however, are rarely covered by health insurance providers. Ontario patient Jonathan Zaid is one of the few to have his marijuana prescription paid for by an insurer.

Mia’s case is not the only one when it comes to Alberta’s stubborn refusal to allow medical marijuana in the treatment of children.

Lita Pawliw, whose 4-year-old daughter Natalya also suffers from epileptic seizures, had to fight the Alberta government to allow her daughter to be treated with medical marijuana. The province tried to get a court order, last month, to force Natalya to go back on prescription drugs, but dropped the case when it was brought to the attention of the media.

That begs the question: why is it that Alberta is more comfortable with children being administered Big Pharma drugs, which often carry terrible side-effects, than a natural drug that actually helps stop seizures?
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