Medical marijuana — a sense of urgency

Katherine Lynch knows her daughter, Ann Townsend Lynch, could use some relief. That’s why the mother is seeking legal access in Georgia to “medical marijuana,” an oil extract of the plant that’s been shown to drastically reduce seizures in people suffering a variety of ills. Shortly after birth, Ann Townsend, now 3 1/2, suffered a “hypoxic ischemic event” that deprived her of oxygen and left her brain-injured. By age one, she was enduring approximately 100 seizures a day.

Lynch, a 36-year-old commercial real estate professional, recently talked about her daughter’s condition and why she hopes state legislators will move forward on legalizing medical marijuana.

Q: Tell us about your daughter.

A: She was born perfectly healthy. No concerns whatsoever, and four days later, (she) started having seizures. After a number of tests, they determined there was a brain injury and a prognosis of a likelihood of seizure disorder, global developmental delays and cerebral palsy.

Q: When did she start having seizures?

A: She had them right at the beginning, and they got them under control. At about nine months to a year, (the) seizures started happening again. They ramped up pretty quick. Before we knew it, she was having a hundred a day, and she was in the hospital.

Q: Her treatment for this was Phenobarbitol?

A: That’s one. She’s on three different anti-epileptic drugs, pharmaceutical drugs. She’s also on a ketogenic diet, which is a very strict, controversial diet for kids of this age that takes out all carbs and sugar.

Q: What did the doctors say?

A: The doctors tell you if you can’t get adequate seizure control with one or two anti-epileptic drugs, the chances of getting control are slim to none with any drugs that are available. I spent the next two years trying to accept that the world we’re going to be living in is never going to have the perfect answer. It’s just going to be a balancing act between seizure control and Ann Townsend being completely sedated, with a goal of trying to keep her as comfortable as possible.

Q: How did you hear about medical marijuana?

A: The Sanjay Gupta (CNN) special came out in August 2013. I had heard people talking about it. I probably had the same reaction every other parent had: First, don’t get my hopes up. And second, I’m not going to give marijuana to my kid. But seeing your child suffer each day will force you to be open-minded to anything. Once you see how other kids (receiving medical cannabis) are getting seizure control, and are awake and alert for the first time in their lives, not being totally sedated, it definitely strikes your interest.

Q: Would you consider moving from Georgia to get that treatment?

A: I’ve considered it. I’ve not completely eliminated it as a possibility. The more I research the issue, the stronger I feel about the fact that no one should have to move to get access to something that every neurologist I’ve spoken to is 100 percent on board with.

Q: What would you like to tell the Georgia General Assembly?

A: My message is that Georgia legislators need to understand the sense of urgency. We can’t wait around. We’ve already lost two kids whose parents were lobbying with me at the Capitol this past winter. A lot of these kids are so young. There’s potential that they could have a dramatically different quality of life if we do something now. Little kids that are in the most important developmental stages of their lives are being made into complete zombies (through sedation), and they’re missing out on this time to develop. Many Georgia legislators like state Rep. Allen Peake are doing admirable work to set up a framework for safe access in Georgia. Due to federal regulations, the issue is incredibly complex. But that is no excuse not to be proactive. On a federal level, it is a complete mess. The feds obtained a patent for the neuroprotectant qualities of marijuana components, but it does no good until they admit that it was a mistake for marijuana to be listed as a controlled substance. It’s simply irresponsible not to move this forward at all levels and take the necessary steps to untangle this mess.

Q: Should Georgia cultivate and regulate medical marijuana, or just decriminalize its use?

A: Why not both? I understand both routes have implications, but I trust elected officials and experienced consultants to figure it out. I’m not an elected official, I’m a parent. I’m a mom. My goal is to seek effective and humane treatment for my daughter.