FALMOUTH, Maine — Three times each day, 19-year-old Katie Solman of Bangor adds drops of a medical marijuana tincture into a cup of juice or tea and swallows it.
Sometimes, she lets a lozenge dissolve in her mouth instead, in order to obtain the effects of the medical marijuana she says helps keep her epileptic seizures at bay.
“It’s just completely changed my life,” Solman said Tuesday
Diagnosed with epilepsy at age 11, Solman has been prescribed a variety of pharmaceutical prescriptions over the years to ease the symptoms of her epilepsy.
But “the very serious side effects made my situation worse,” she said, and discontinuing some of the drugs led to withdrawal.
Since September, the Bates College sophomore has taken a “high-CBD, low THC” strain of the marijuana, which she said doesn’t cause the psychoactive effects traditionally associated with the drug but instead helps control her seizures.
Solman and her mother, Kristi Solman, joined other parents and activists who gathered Tuesday at Integr8 Health to urge President Barack Obama to remove medical marijuana from the federal government’s list of scheduled drugs.
Doing so on a federal level would allow research into marijuana’s medicinal benefits to commence.
More importantly, though, “it would increase access to patients in need,” said Brad Feuer, CEO of Integr8 Health, which works with patients to provide recommendations for treatment with medical marijuana and allows patients to establish a relationship with a doctor — two requirements to obtain the substance in Maine.
Integr8 Health and its sister practice, Maine Integrative Health Care in Manchester, work with more than 11,000 patients with conditions that range from chronic pain, cancer and multiple sclerosis to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, according to Feuer.
Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1999, and a decade later, the law was expanded to include more medical conditions and allow medical marijuana patients to legally buy marijuana from the state’s eight nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries or caregivers.
But the federal government’s official position is that marijuana, as a Schedule I substance, has no medicinal value.
Dr. Dustin Sulak, a licensed osteopath and founder of Integr8 Health, on Tuesday said people must speak out against the “absurd” position of the federal government to continue to classify marijuana as a scheduled drug.
“It is absolutely shameful, a national embarrassment that marijuana or cannabis is a scheduled drug,” said Martin Lee, director of Project CBD, a medical marijuana information service. He added that the classification “flies in the face of extensive scientific research.”
Christy Shake’s son, Calvin Shake, was born with a number of medical ailments. At 2 years old, he began to have epileptic seizures. Since then, he’s taken as many as four pharmaceutical drugs at a time to control the seizures, but even as the side effects made him “a zombie,” his condition worsened. His liver also began to fail.
Christy Shake researched cannabis and convinced her son’s neurologist to write a letter of recommendation to get him medical marijuana. She made her son a cannabis oil that did not create the psychoactive effects, “and almost immediately, he started sleeping through the night,” Shake said Tuesday, noting “a marked improvement” until Calvin Shake began to wean off other prescription drugs.
Kristi Solman said removing medical marijuana from the list of scheduled drugs would prevent families from having to move to Colorado to gain access to specific strains of the drug that will help their children. It would also allow her daughter to visit her grandparents in Arizona without fear that she’ll be stopped at an airport in a state that does not allow medical marijuana.
“Even though there’s a kind of wink-and-a-nod agreement with Homeland Security, we’re breaking the law,” she said.
“It’s a really important cause for me,” Katie Solman said. “I’m premed. I want to be a doctor. This is the future of medicine. Along with helping me, it’s already helped so many people.”
Recently, Solman forgot to take her prescription medication for epilepsy, but she still had no seizure that day. She attributes that to the medicinal marijuana.
“It held me over the entire day,” she said Tuesday.
Solman hopes that, someday, she’ll be able to control symptoms of epilepsy with medical marijuana alone. She hopes she’ll be able to discontinue traditional pharmaceutical drugs altogether.