Medical refugees leave Texas for marijuana treatments

She's a 5-year-old girl living in a rented house in an eastern subdivision of Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pikes Peak. And she's in Colorado because her parents fear that if they were living instead back home in Crosby, Texas that the kindergartner

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- She's a 5-year-old girl living in a rented house in an eastern subdivision of Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pikes Peak. And she's in Colorado because her parents fear that if they were living instead back home in Crosby, Texas, the kindergartner might be considered a felon.

Hannah Loew, a child who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, is among dozens who have moved to Colorado to receive higher concentrated doses of marijuana, or cannabis oil, than their home states will allow.

Hannah has suffered multiple seizures daily all her life, and pharmaceutical remedies have never proven completely effective. So, a year and a half ago, Amber and Paul Loew and their three children loaded everything they own into a moving van and moved to Colorado Springs.

"We left everything," said Amber Loew, so they could legally obtain cannabis oil they hoped would give Hannah a better quality of life.

They moved in March 2014. Hannah received her first dose of cannabis oil in April.

"I would say she's had about an 85 percent reduction in her seizures since we moved here," Amber Loew said. "She has been doing phenomenal, especially the last year."

Just this past June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law legalizing limited use of marijuana for severe forms of epilepsy. However, the Texas law legalizes cannabis oils high in CBD, cannabidiol the non-euphoric compound in marijuana, and low in THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive agent in pot. The law allows a CBD to THC ratio only up to 20 to 1.

Amber Loew says only an additional dose of THC has proven effective to control or limit Hannah's seizures. Their preferred dose of 14 to 1 CBD to THC violates Texas law. But cannabis oils, with varying percentages of CBD and THC are legal to purchase and use in Colorado Springs and multiple other cities and counties throughout Colorado.

"I know of at least 15 other families here, all from Texas, that they're here for the same reason we are," she said. "This little bottle of THC is all that keeps us from Texas."

Hannah now attends a full-day kindergarten at a public school in Colorado Springs as a special education student with the help of a Medicaid-paid nurse who is always at her side.

"She can be a child. She's able to be a kid," Paul Loew said. "She will be able to be with us and not so doped up on (pharmaceutical) meds that she's glass-eyed zombie."

But critics of the marijuana industry in Colorado worry about children like Hannah, too.

"Clearly as a mom we all have empathy for that," said Gina Carbone with the group SMART Colorado, a non-profit focused on "protecting the health, safety and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized."

SMART Colorado and other similar groups say they have tracked increased drug use among teens, increased traffic accidents and deaths and increased emergency room visits related to marijuana ever since pot was legalized in Colorado. They also have concerns about medical marijuana extracts and oils processed and certified by private companies without oversight by a federal agency like the FDA.

"The pesticide issue has been a big problem in Colorado, and people have been getting sick," Carbone said. "We've had a number of lawsuits. There's no real regulation on the pesticides yet. The pressure should be on the epileptic community and the doctors to do the research and to make sure these (seizure control improvements) aren't only anecdotal stories."

KHOU witnessed one such anecdotal story first-hand. Hannah still has seizures, despite a morning and night dose of CBD/THC cannabis oils along with lesser amounts of doctor-prescribed medications.

After school, while at a playground next door to their home, she began to convulse and collapsed into her father's arms. Hannah's parents and her nurse rushed her into their living room where they calmly went through a medical routine they've done now hundreds of times: A heart monitor attached to her finger, a suction machine to make sure her airway remained clear, and an oxygen mask to help her breath.

Then Amber Loew took a small additional dose of THC in a syringe and rubbed it inside Hannah's mouth. Her seizure began to fade.

Hannah's seizures while here in Texas, sometimes lasting more than an hour, used to require an ambulance ride to the hospital and heavy medications to induce a coma and end her convulsions. In Colorado, the Loews say Hannah hasn't been to the hospital in more than a year, and the seizure we witnessed lasted just four minutes, ending shortly after the additional dose of THC.

"Come to my home, and you be responsible for her for 24 hours, and you see her go what she goes through. And then tell me that you won't legalize this," Amber Loew said holding a bottle of THC that combined with a CBD/THC product called Haleigh's Hope, costs them upwards of $300 a month. "You're going to say that she can't be with family and she can't go back to her home state all because of a bottle of oil. And it's sad."

"And we left, on a leap of faith," said Paul Loew who left behind a job with full medical insurance in Texas and wasn't able to find full-time work in Colorado for more than a year. "We can give her a better quality of life (here). Why wouldn't you just for the sake of a child?"

For the sake of their child, they're staying in Colorado and haven't seen their Texas relatives in a year and a half.

"We consider ourselves medical refugees. This is a basic need for her. And we are a refugee in our own country," Amber Loew said.

In Colorado, they often refer to pot legalization as the "grand experiment." An experiment that had Hannah alert again, and ready to back to school the next day.

An experiment, and a car ride to kindergarten her parents wish was possible back home in Texas.

On Thursday, KHOU takes a closer look at the $1 billion a year an industry in Colorado. We tour major marijuana products manufacturers, look at the taxes generated and ear-marked for Colorado schools, hear the on-going concerns of anti-legalization groups, and look at what Texas might be missing – both good and bad – by not joining Colorado's grand experiment.

Related links:

Hannah's Fight Facebook page

SMART Colorado

Flowering Hope Foundation


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