HOUSTON – For years, Dr. Joshua Rotenberg has treated children who suffer from some form of epilepsy. He’s had success in limiting the number of seizures some patients have with medications or dieting. In other cases, no matter the treatment, the seizures won't stop.

For those latter cases—known as intractable epilepsy—Rotenberg, a Houston pediatric neurologist, and 17 other statewide neurologists have a new treatment tool at their disposal: low-THC medical cannabis.

“It’s incredible for them, I think, to reduce the burden of seizures and increase quality of life,” Rotenberg said. “It changes the whole world.”

The cannabis comes in the form of oil with low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, the main ingredient in marijuana that causes a high. Instead, the oil contains high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) that doesn't come with a high and is used to treat epilepsy and other medical conditions.

It was legalized in 2016 when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Compassionate Use Act into law. Not only did it authorize the legal use of cannabis oil for patients who suffer from intractable epilepsy, but it created a state registry of neurologists to prescribe the oil and for the creation of three dispensaries to cultivate marijuana to be processed into cannabis oil and dispensed statewide.

FAQ: Texas Compassionate Use Act

A 6-year-old girl in Central Texas, who wasn’t identified, was the first recipient of legal medical cannabis after an order was delivered to her home Thursday.

“This is a great day for patients in Texas,” said State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), in a conference call Friday. Klick authored the Compassionate Use Act. “Many of these patients have exhausted all options—brain surgery, multiple pharmaceutical products—and their seizures are not controlled.”

Knox Medical, a Florida-based company with a dispensary in Schulenburg, made Thursday’s delivery. The company declined to release more details about the girl, citing patient privacy, but a spokesperson said the company is honored to make the “first delivery of medical cannabis to a patient in Texas.”

About 160,000 Texans suffer from intractable epilepsy, according to Knox Medical, though Rotenberg estimates the number to be around 130,000.

Texas has long taken a hard stance against marijuana, even for medical purposes. Meanwhile 28 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, while nine states plus the District of Columbia have outright legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

There’s a growing trend among Texans who support marijuana’s legalization, too. Eighty-three percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use, according to a 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Rotenberg said he’s aware of people who have traveled to states like Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal, to purchase cannabis oil to help combat intractable epilepsy. It’s long travel for families who swear by its benefits. Rotenberg said in some cases cannabis oil has cut a person’s seizures in half.

“If it helps in that way, that’s great,” he said.

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