Marijuana and hemp comes from different types of cannabis plants and contain similar chemicals.
A bill allowing children with epilepsy to use hemp extract will be heading to the Senate floor for a vote, though some lawmakers were concerned about the need or potential abuse of the product.
Marijuana and hemp come from different types of cannabis plants and contain similar chemicals, just in different quantities. Hemp, however, mostly contains cannabidiol (CBD), and can only contain 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for the marijuana high, according to federal law.
Industrial hemp was legalized in Indiana in 2014, but only those researching the plant can grow it. This bill would create a registry of doctors who are using hemp extract to treat patients younger than 18 with epilepsy and research it. This also provides immunity to pharmacists who dispense it.
Jenna Beckerman, a botanist and plant pathologist at Purdue University who studies hemp, said medical marijuana contains a much higher percentage of THC.
“You could smoke an acre of industrial hemp and you could have a really bad headache before you got high,” Beckerman said.
Still, hemp and medical marijuana are often brought up in the same conversation, which could cause issues when getting support for the legislation.
Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, the author of the legislation, pointed out his opposition to medical marijuana during the bill’s hearing.
“I don’t want anybody to misunderstand here,” Tomes said. “I will not support medical marijuana. Though I know there are some applications that it is beneficial, the problem is that it can’t be controlled from abuse. This product wont be abused because of its nature.”
Tomes said this step is intended for people who have tried numerous other treatments for epilepsy.
“These families have tried everything,” Tomes said. “They are up against the wall. There is nowhere to go. This is it.”
Brandy Barrett, one woman who testified in favor of the bill, used cannabidiol on her son who had seizures.
Her son was healthy until his first seizure at 6 months old. As the seizures continued, he stayed nonverbal and fell behind in development. At one point, he could only have one activity at a time or his seizures would be triggered.
“We sought advice from attorneys, from family members and we felt we had nothing to lose,” Barrett said. “Our child was at the point where he could not leave the bed.”
She said he now has 80 percent fewer seizures, and they’ve noticed considerable improvement.
Before voting no on the legislation, Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, presented an amendment to try to allow hemp oil with no THC. Tomes said passing that amendment would essentially have killed his bill.
Beckerman said while many hemp plants have only trace amounts of THC, they would never consider it to be at zero.
Two others joined Koch in voting against the bill, bringing it through the committee with a 5-3 vote.
“This is a major change in public policy, and I just felt like we needed more time and we needed more legal and medical input,” Koch said.
Call Evansville Courier & Press reporter Kaitlin Lange at (812) 549-1429. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.