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Illinois Senate considering bill to give kids access to medical pot at schools

File photo | Mathew Sumner/AP

The Illinois State Senate is now considering a bill the House overwhelmingly approved Wednesday that would allow parents or guardians to medicate their children with cannabis while they’re at school.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, sponsored the measure, which sailed through the House with a 99-1 vote.

The bill was brought to the floor after the family of 11-year-old Ashley Surin filed a federal lawsuit against the state and Schaumburg School District 54 for failing to include public schools among the places people can possess medical cannabis. Surin has been prescribed medical cannabis to treat seizures related to a leukemia diagnosis.

After four years of trying out traditional medications, Surin’s doctors prescribed medical cannabis. She wears a patch on her foot, which contains small amounts of THC. She also sometimes puts oil drops containing THC on her tongue or wrists to regulate her seizures.

A judge ultimately ruled in favor of the family later that month, allowing Surin to bring her medication to school.

“Absent the medical marijuana treatment being available, Ashley would have been unlikely to continue in school,” Lang said in a statement following the vote. “Now, with the infused medical marijuana treatment, she has had few seizures and allowed her to refocus on her studies and resume a normal life as much as possible for a 11-year-old girl.”

Lou Lang | AP file photo

State Sen. Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat who represents Surin’s district, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. Based on the House vote, she thinks the measure will make it out of the Senate.

“I truly support this and I plan on working with the family,” according to Castro, who expects a vote on the measure in roughly two weeks.

“We want to help our children,” she added.

Another form of cannabis is also being used to treat children with epilepsy. Ayesha Akhtar, who serves as the director of education at the Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago, said non-psychoactive cannabidiol, or CBD oil, can be used as an effective medication to control seizures.

“When we were in Springfield in March, we met [Lang] and spent a few minutes discussing with him the importance of this legislation for children with seizures who will benefit from this CBD, which can help with seizure control, and can ultimately improve their quality of life,” Akhtar told the Sun-Times.

Since kids can’t bring medical cannabis to school, Akhtar said, the burden falls on parents to pick them up during the school day to bring them home so they can medicate. Lang’s bill would allow parents or guardians to administer the medication to children on school grounds.

Meanwhile, the federal government is beginning to acknowledge CBD as a viable option for treating epilepsy.

Earlier this week, an FDA panel voted unanimously in favor of an experimental CBD syrup being developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, paving the way for U.S. approval. The panel’s backing was based on three studies that showed significant reductions in seizures among children with two rare forms of epilepsy. However, it’s unclear why CBD reduces seizures.

GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, a medicine made from the marijuana plant but without TCH.

GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex reduced seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy and warrants approval in the United States, health officials said Tuesday, April 17, 2018. | AP file photo

The experimental drug — known as Epidiolex — hasn’t been given a price tag, but Wall Street analysts estimate it could cost more than $25,000 a year.

Akhtar lauded the FDA’s announcement, noting that CBD can be an important tool for treating people with epilepsy who don’t respond to other medications. She hopes the agency’s ruling leads to increased regulation and easier access to the drug, which is currently listed by the federal government as a Schedule I narcotic. However, she admitted that some of the drug’s effects aren’t currently known.

“Usually, people take CBD with [anti-epileptic drugs], and so they’re still on these anti-seizure drugs and there could be side effects that we don’t even know about,” Akhtar said. “So I think we’re still in that sort of unknown phase. But, I think enough people are willing to take that leap, and they’ll try that CBD just because they’ve tried everything else.”

“All they want is just a better quality of life, and if this is something that is a glimmer in that direction, I think families will take it,” she added.