There is reason to hope that future generations will have access to both medical and recreational cannabis, free from the fear of legal harassment or social stigma. Prohibitionist policies stretching back decades and even centuries are finally crumbling, largely thanks to the bravery of certain children and their families who have helped blaze a trail towards reform.
These are the stories of some of the children who have changed the world by inspiring cannabis policy changes.
Charlotte Figi – USA
The cannabis world is currently in mourning following the loss of a little girl who captured the hearts of a nation and transformed the views of millions of people. Charlotte Figi, who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, inspired the creation of a high-CBD cannabis strain that became known as Charlotte’s Web. Despite the fact that all other treatments had failed to ease her symptoms, her condition improved drastically once she began using this new medication. Her relentless seizures – which previously occurred about once every 30 minutes – suddenly stopped, with a whole week sometimes passing between convulsions. This allowed her to develop her motor skills through play, and to eat without the aid of a feeding tube.
Charlotte became a national icon in the US when she appeared in a 2013 documentary called ‘Weed’, presented by CNN chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta. Having previously written an article for Time magazine opposing the legalisation of marijuana, Gupta says his encounter with Charlotte caused him to radically change his opinion on the subject. It goes without saying that he was not the only one.
Sadly, Charlotte passed away in April 2020 after being hospitalised with pneumonia, aged 13.
Graciela Elizalde – Mexico
Graciela Elizalde – known to most people as Grace – became the first Mexican to receive medical cannabis when she was granted a special exemption to use CBD in 2015, as a treatment for a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Just eight years old at the time, she suffered roughly 400 seizures a day before being granted permission to use the medication, though this dropped to just two or three a day once she began using it. Her family immediately set up the Por Grace Foundation, which has supported several clinical studies proving the effectiveness of CBD to treat various forms of epilepsy[i], resulting in the Mexican government finally allowing medicinal cannabis oil in 2017.
That same year, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report stating that CBD should not be considered a dangerous drug or subject to international drug scheduling[ii], after Grace’s father Raul gave an impassioned speech at one of its committee meetings.
Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley – UK
Cannabis reform in the UK has been painfully slow, although a major breakthrough occurred in 2018 after two young boys suffering with epilepsy captured the public’s attention and forced the government to drop its ridiculous opposition to medical marijuana. Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley were both denied permission to use cannabis oil products containing small amounts of THC alongside CBD, despite the fact that they had both seen life-changing improvements in their condition after using these medications abroad. As a result, Alfie was left with no choice but to continue his treatment in the Netherlands, while Billy had to go to Canada to obtain his medicine.
Yet the situation became critical when Billy’s medication was seized by customs officials at Heathrow as his mother attempted to bring it into the country. Within hours, Billy was hospitalised with life-threatening seizures, resulting in a public outcry. Only then did the government finally agree to give him special dispensation to use cannabis products containing THC. This was followed by new legislation allowing those with “exceptional clinical need” to access medical marijuana, although an appallingly low number of prescriptions have been granted so far.
Jacobo Tangarife – Colombia
Jacobo’s mother Natalia Tangarife founded the Cultivando Esperanza Foundation in order to push for medical marijuana legislation in Colombia, after he became the country’s first recipient in 2015, at the age of four. Until that point, Jacobo had been experiencing some 30 seizures a day, though this dropped to just two a day after he was given access to CBD. His story became national news, and regulations for a medical marijuana industry were put in place in 2016 – though it has taken a further four years for the first sales to finally occur.
Katelyn Lambert – Australia
After hearing Charlotte Figi’s story, the parents of Katelyn Lambert decided to try cannabis oil as a treatment for her debilitating seizures. Like Charlotte, Katelyn had been diagnosed with Dravet syndrome and had not responded to any conventional medications, though her father Michael claims that her seizures stopped from the moment she first took cannabis oil. Unfortunately, medicinal cannabis is tightly controlled in Australia, and Katelyn’s family were unable to legally obtain her life-saving medication[iii].
Luckily, Katelyn’s grandfather, Barry Lambert, happens to be one of the wealthiest men in Australia. After witnessing his granddaughter’s astonishing improvement, he decided to donate $34 million (AUS) to the University of Sydney, founding the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics in 2014. The first cannabis research organisation in Australia, the project is currently developing cannabis-based products to treat epilepsy, chronic pain, cancer and a range of other illnesses.
The bravery of each of these children – and many others like them – has moved mountains, causing governments to backtrack on prohibition and paving the way for fairer access to medicinal and recreational cannabis. That it should take the suffering of innocent children to initiate such a change, however, is a matter of international disgrace.