BOSTON (CBS) – It could be the first-ever drug made from part of a marijuana plant approved by the federal government and one family here in Massachusetts says it’s already making a huge difference in their lives.
Emma Newcomer tightly holds on to a few pieces of laminated paper, covered in square photos. These photos are how she talks to the world.
By pointing at the different pictures, she communicates if she’s hungry or wants to play.
The 13-year-old has a severe form of epilepsy. She can suffer up to 100 seizures a day.
Her dad, Anders, said the family never knows what’s going to happen.
“Knowing that the seizures that she has can be life-threatening, at any time, really it’s scary,” he said.
The family had tried almost everything to cut down on the frequency of the seizures.
“You name it and we tried it,” said Emma’s mom, Jennifer.
Then the Newcomers joined an experimental drug trial at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“She’s not seizure-free, but she is so much better,” said Anders Newcomer. “We’ve been so lucky this CBD oil has really helped. I can’t say enough.”
Jennifer Newcomer said: “It just greatly improved the quality of life for her, for the whole family.”
The CBD oil Emma now takes twice a day is a chemical purified from marijuana.
“The reality is now, I think, we have evidence for its efficacy of CBD for some children with epilepsy,” said Dr. Elizabeth Thiele of Massachusetts General Hospital, who treats Emma.
Thiele was the lead author of a recent study on CBD oil. The study found nearly half of young epilepsy patients saw a reduction in seizures while on the drug.
“It has no bioactive properties. So, that’s very distinct from THC, which is the other main cannabinoid in cannabis. And its THC that provides the high,” Thiele said.
Patients won’t get high but since the drug comes from the marijuana plant, it could face a big hurdle winning federal approval.
“People need to be better informed. CBD oil has no hallucinogenic. It’s not something that she is getting high off of,” said Anders Newcomer.
If approved, this drug could lead to even more medical breakthroughs, such as diseases like multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer, said Thiele.
“I think there is a huge amount of interest, other than epilepsy, (such as) what are compounds from the cannabis plant going to be useful for?” Thiele said.
The FDA is holding hearings this month and a final decision from the FDA could come as early as this summer.
“If it can improve the quality of one child’s life I would ask them to consider approving it,” said Jennifer Newcomer.
There are some companies already advertising cannabis oil treatments. Like other supplements, these are not approved or regulated by the FDA and some have been found to not contain any CBD at all.