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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
WEED: A Dr. Sanjay Gupta Investigation
Aired November 24, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): People are lighting up all over the country. They call it the green rush. Marijuana moved out of the back alleys and into the open.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a cannabis truck, y'all.
GUPTA: In some states it's legal to grow, to sell, to smoke, and marijuana could be legalized in a city near you. So easy to get and many think so harmless. But when the smoke clears, is marijuana bad for you, or could pot actually be good for you?
Marijuana is better than all those for you in terms of treating?
CHAZ MOORE, PATIENT: Yes.
GUPTA: I travel the world for answers. What does marijuana do to you? What does it do to your kids? A special investigation. WEED.
Our journey begins here in this small town home nestled in the mountains with a family who has never allowed TV cameras in before, and you're going to soon learn why.
This is so pretty out here.
MATT FIGI, FATHER: Yes.
GUPTA: They live in Colorado, one of two states where it's legal to smoke pot medically and recreationally, but here it's also taboo to residents like Paige Figi and her husband Matt.
PAIGE FIGI, MOTHER: I'm sure it was mentioned by someone, hey, you should try this, and I thought no way.
GUPTA: You thought that's fringe stuff?
P. FIGI: No way. Not in a million years. No.
GUPTA: But in this area marijuana is far from fringe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More joints? And do you want island sweet?
GUPTA: Medical dispensaries are everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome, guys.
GUPTA: People are smoking in private clubs and public festivals, but none of this is for Matt. He is a military man and marijuana would be a career ender.
M. FIGI: I grew up in Wisconsin in a well-loving family, and I was educated, like, that's a drug. You don't do that, and I never did.
GUPTA: But just decades ago marijuana was a legitimate medication also called cannabis prescribed by doctors and dispensed by pharmacies. But that all changed in 1930.
Henry Anslinger, the United States first drug czar. For him public enemy number one, you guessed it, marijuana.
CARL HART, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: This guy saw how he could increase the budget of his department by having this mission, going after marijuana.
DR. JULIE HOLLAND, EDITOR, THE POT BOOK: You know, saying that there's this drug that the Mexican migrant workers are smoking, and it's loco weed, and it's going make them crazy, and they're going to rape your women.
GUPTA: He got the anti-marijuana message out through news reports. And then came this. The film "Reefer Madness" portraying the users of marijuana as unproductive, crazed.
HOLLAND: People are still afraid of what pot can do to them.
GUPTA: In many ways to have defined our attitudes now for 70 years.
GUPTA: Marijuana then became illegal in 1937. And by 1970 it was a schedule one controlled substance. The government was saying it had no medicinal value and had a high potential for abuse. All reasons why the Figis stayed away from marijuana. Until this. And this might be hard for some of you to watch.
P. FIGI: It's OK, baby.
GUPTA: This is their daughter, Charlotte, having a seizure.
P. FIGI: We just thought it was just one random fibril seizure.
GUPTA: Nothing to really do. No medications. It's a fluke?
P. FIGI: Right.
GUPTA: A fluke made sense. After all, Charlotte, nicknamed Charlie, was born perfectly healthy. A fraternal twin to sister Chase.
M. FIGI: Charlie always had big, big smiles. Just happy kids.
P. FIGI: Easy.
M. FIGI: Yes, easy. Very much so.
GUPTA: So it was around three months you said that when you first noticed --
P. FIGI: Yes. Yes.
GUPTA: -- that Charlie had a seizure.
M. FIGI: I was changing her diaper. While putting a new diaper on from after the bath, and her eyes just started flickering.
GUPTA: It led to the first of many trips to the E.R.
P. FIGI: They did the million-dollar workup, MRI, EEG, spinal tap, you know, they did the whole workup and found nothing and sent us home.
GUPTA: No abnormal blood test? No abnormal scan?
P. FIGI: And developing normally, too. You know, talking and walking and the same day as her twin. Nothing was behind yet.
GUPTA: By the time she was 2, though, the seizures had become constant and started to take their toll on their once happy, joyful little girl.
P. FIGI: She started to really decline cognitively, and she was slipping away. And she just wasn't keeping up with her twin.
GUPTA: The Figis finally found an answer. It was awful news. Dravet Syndrome. It is severe intractable epilepsy. The seizures start during the first year of life and are unstoppable. Difficult to control and very damaging.
P. FIGI: Severe behavioral problems, attention deficit, hyperactivity, the self-injury, you know, banging her head on the floor, and pulling her hair out, and like a possessed child. This isn't your perfect, happy Charlotte.
GUPTA: It was a race against time. Many Dravet kids die young, in early childhood. Charlotte was almost 3. For the next two years the Figis tried everything. Strange diets, acupuncture, and dozens of powerful drugs like valium, Ativan, even barbital. But nothing seemed to help. Even worse, some of the medications nearly killed her.
P. FIGI: After one dose she stops breathing, and after two doses her heart will stop.
GUPTA: Did you have to do CPR then on her yourself?
P. FIGI: Yes. I remember when her heart stopped, and I had her pulse, and I lost her pulse. There was just nothing. The ambulance is on its way.
GUPTA: She survived.
P. FIGI: You're OK. Mommy is here.
GUPTA: But now it was fall of 2011, and Charlotte was 5 years old. P. FIGI: When things are at their worst, she just -- the kids are sleeping either in my room or next so they can hear her seizure scream all night, 50 times a night, and Chase would come in, in the morning and just misses her twin and just hug her and, like, rub her head and say, I'm just so glad you survived through the night last night.
GUPTA: Matt had been deployed to Afghanistan, and the only thing he could do to help was start scouring the Internet, and he stumbled on to this video of a child using marijuana.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how is everything going?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had four days without a seizure.
M. FIGI: I'm, like, wow, they're having success on specifically Dravet. This is interesting. It's natural.
GUPTA: And while he couldn't ever imagine taking marijuana himself, he was now in the stunning position of recommending it for Charlotte.
M. FIGI: I was, like, we need to do this.
P. FIGI: And I said I don't know. There you are.
GUPTA: And then Charlotte's condition got worse. Three hundred seizures a week. Almost two every hour. She was not talking or moving. Basically catatonic. As a last resort, doctors wanted to either prescribe a powerful veterinary drug used on epileptic dogs or put Charlotte in a medically induced coma so her brain and body could rest.
For Paige those were not good options, but maybe, just maybe marijuana now was. But she was about to find out how hard that would be.
P. FIGI: This isn't go to the pharmacy and pick up your medicine. There was no protocol.
GUPTA: When we come back, what will the Figis do? And What would you do if this were your daughter?
P. FIGI: I had resigned myself. I don't think she's going to survive this.
M. FIGI: We've seen her flatlined in a hospital. We've said good- bye.
GUPTA: You're listening to Matt and Paige Figi describe their own daughter.
What would you do if this were your child?
Charlotte Figi had an extreme form of epilepsy. Her body was so frail that any seizure could kill her. With no traditional treatment left to try and the clock ticking away, her parents decided to try marijuana. Charlotte was just 5 years old.
You need a card in order to be able to get the cannabis from a pharmacy. Doctors have to prescribe it.
P. FIGI: You need two doctors in Colorado to get the card for a juvenile or a child. It was hard. We were the first young child and they said no. Everyone said no, no, no, no.
DR. ALAN SHACKELFORD, PRESCRIBES MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Certainly her age played a role in my hesitance.
GUPTA: Dr. Alan Shackelford is a Harvard-trained physician. He is also among a handful of doctors in Colorado who give prescriptions for medical marijuana. From the moment Charlotte entered his office, he knew she was in trouble. While he was just examining her, she had two seizures.
SHACKELFORD: She'd failed everything. There were no more options for her. Everything had been tried, except cannabis.
GUPTA: Here's how scientists think it might work. Marijuana is made up of two ingredients -- THC, that's the psychoactive part that makes you high, and CBD, also can cannibadiol. If the CBD that scientists think modulates electrical and chemical activity to help quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes seizures.
Dr. Julie Holland is the editor of the "Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis."
HOLLAND: For a long time the work on cannabis and epilepsy was sort of inconclusive. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn't. They couldn't quite figure it out. It's only when they really started separating THC from CBD that they saw, you know, definitively, yes, CBD seems to really stop seizures.
GUPTA: So the Figis needed to find something that was rare. A strain of marijuana that was low in THC -- of course, they didn't want Charlotte getting stoned -- but also high in CBD to treat her seizures. And that wouldn't be easy. Dispensaries and growers, they make their money off strains that are high in THC.
JOEL STANLEY, MARIJUANA GROWER: I'm Joel.
JOSH STANLEY, MARIJUANA GROWER: I'm Josh.
GUPTA: No one knows that better than the Stanley brothers. Their family business is pot. And if you look at these clean cut guys and what you see surprises you, don't worry. They've heard it all before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we were round the corner, they're like, oh, wait a second. You know, did you finish high school?
GUPTA: They all not only finished high school, but also college and in some cases graduate school. Now they are some of Colorado's biggest growers and dispensary owners. They produce up to 600 pounds of medical marijuana a year, and much of that marijuana is high in THC. But here on their remote farm at this undisclosed location in the mountains --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes a lot of plants. We're allowed to grow six per patient.
GUPTA: They have been growing something different. Something they call revolutionary.
It's a greenhouse one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greenhouse one. Yes. Welcome to it. Welcome to paradise.
Behind closed doors and under tight security we enter what the Stanleys call the garden of Eden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's nothing like this in the world. This place 21 percent CBD and less than 1 percent THC.
GUPTA: It took years of crossbreeding plants to get to this point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of breeding up the THC we've bred down the THC and bred up the CBD, and people said, you're crazy. You know, who is going to smoke that?
GUPTA: So why grow it then? Well, the Stanleys also believed in CBD's potential to treat many diseases. And they had seen it change lives before.
Meet 19-year-old Chaz Moore. He uses many different strains of marijuana. Many of them high in CBD to treat his rare disorder of the diaphragm.
MOORE: My abs will like lock up --
GUPTA: That's why he's talking this way. Almost speaking in hiccups, like he can't catch his breath. It's called myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter.
This fluttering here is annoying but it becomes painful. Pretty quickly, I imagine.
MOORE: Yes, after like 15, 20 minutes, this is where I can like start to really feel --
GUPTA: He's about to show me how the marijuana works. He's been convulsing now for seven minutes.
How quickly do you expect this to work?
MOORE: Within like the first five minutes. And I'm done, like.
GUPTA: That's it.
MOORE: That's it.
GUPTA: It was actually less than a minute.
MOORE: Depending on the attack and the day, like, it will work within the first couple of hits.
GUPTA: Hear how his voice is completely different. That attack lasted eight minutes, but some have lasted the much longer and happened as often as 40 times a day, and like Charlotte, he had tried so many things before. By 16 Chaz was taking these powerful, addictive, potentially deadly narcotics and muscle relaxants daily, like valium and morphine.
It would be safe to say that marijuana, in which you have in your hand there, is better than all those pills for you in terms of treating?
GUPTA: What's going on.
MOORE: Yes. I wouldn't -- I'm not zombie-fied. I've had 16, 17 attacks today, and I'm still sitting up talking to you. My first attack on all these, I'd be in the hospital.
SEAN MOORE, CHAZ'S FATHER: I'm a firm believer that marijuana has actually saved my son's life.
GUPTA: Chaz's father, Sean.
S. MOORE: His quality of life now is 1,000 times better than what it was when he was on the pharmaceuticals.
GUPTA: A quality of life that Paige Figi desperately wanted for her daughter, Charlotte, but she still had one hurdle to cross. Convincing dispensary owners, like the Stanleys, to sell marijuana to a 5-year-old little girl.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Charlotte's mother called my brother, Joel, the brothers had a meeting and said tell us about this patient. She's 5 years old, he said, and we said, no, we can't do that.
GUPTA: Why? It was the fear of the unknown. Charlotte was the youngest patient at the time wanting marijuana. Would it be too much for her? Or would it change her life forever? We'll find that out later, but, first, learn more about what marijuana does to your kids' brain and yours as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're smoking weed, make some noise. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GUPTA: April 20th, Denver, Colorado. Tens of thousands from around the country and the world lighting up legally.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good cannabis crop, you all.
GUPTA: For some it's a lifestyle. For others it's a lifeline.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working with the Lupus Foundation and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
GUPTA: But for all of them, I wonder, what was it doing to their brains?
DR. STACI GRUBER, DIRECTOR, MCLEAN HOSPITAL'S BRAIN IMAGING CENTER: Some of my patients call me pot doc.
GUPTA: Your patients call you pot doc?
GRUBER: Well, they never meet anybody who's as interested in hearing about their marijuana use as I am.
GUPTA: Dr. Staci Gruber is serious about pot.
GRUBER: I want you to name the color and not to read it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
GUPTA: I met her in her labs at n McLean Hospital near Boston. She's using high-tech imaging to see what happens in the brain when you smoke.
GRUBER: When you first smoke, that is, you know, you light up a joint, a spiff, a blunt, receptors, which are throughout the brain, respond and these areas of the brain are responsible for things like pleasure, memory, learning, sensation, sense of time and space, coordination, movement, appetite, and other drives, shall we say, so it's sort of an all over impact, right?
GUPTA: So reward, pleasure, hunger. You have this overall feeling of well being they say. That all sounds pretty good.
GRUBER: It does sound pretty good.
GUPTA: And it's not just feeling good, but there's this phenomenon reported by many smokers over the years, especially famous artists, the ability to be more creative.
GRUBER: When you feel that high, there's sort of a release of dopamine, and your brain sort of -- has the ability to perceive things slightly differently from the way you might have if you hadn't been smoking pot. What you really see is this reduction in hibitory function. AMIR, PAINTER: Welcome, Dr. Gupta.
GUPTA: Pretty spectacular.
Less inhibition. That's something that painter Amir says helps him be more creative. A successful artist. His canvasses sell for up to $25,000.
AMIR: It's my favorite way to work.
GUPTA: Using marijuana.
He has been painting for 14 years, smoking for even longer. He says it makes him feel more relaxed, but most importantly for him, he says it makes him less critical of his own work.
AMIR: Stop worrying so much about this and that and just sort of looking and being as present as possible.
GUPTA: Amir does caution that it's a delicate balancing for him.
AMIR: It would make me very apprehensive, maybe a little paranoid. Just too analytical.
HOLLAND: You can you get paranoid, you can have disorganized thinking. You get disoriented. It can be uncomfortable. It can lead to panic attacks or anxiety attacks in people.
GUPTA: How do you know when you've done too much?
AMIR: Simple tasks become very frustrating, like mixing paint, and then just sort of get into this state of, you know --
GUPTA: And why that happens is exactly what Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart is investigating.
GUPTA: Research subjects in his lab smoke marijuana and then take a variety of cognitive tests.
HART: The effects will be disruption in memory, disruptions in inhibitory control. They will become slower at cognitive functioning. A wide range of things. These effects are temporary, but they're pretty pronounced and they are clear.
GUPTA: And it's slowly becoming clear to scientists what part of the brain is most affected. It's the prefrontal cortex.
HART: It's very important for planning, thinking, coordinating your behaviors. There are tons of marijuana receptors in this region and we think that marijuana, particularly in the novice, can disrupt all of those behaviors.
GUPTA: An impairment that Hart cautions could be dangerous. Especially when driving.
HART: You may prematurely hit your brakes. You may prematurely hit the gas pedal. A wide range of things. You may make a turn without looking more carefully.
GUPTA: Look at this experiment done by CNN affiliate KIRO in Washington state. Subjects smoke marijuana and then drove. One was a daily medical marijuana smoker and another an infrequent weekend smoker.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Relaxed and buzzed.
GUPTA: The more the novice user smoked, the more trouble behind the wheel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch yourself. Watch yourself.
GUPTA: But interestingly, the habitual smoker didn't have as much trouble.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would (INAUDIBLE).
GUPTA: And that's something I witnessed firsthand driving around with 19-year-old Chaz Moore. The day that I spent with him, he had been smoking all day long.
Do you feel impaired at all?
MOORE: No, I don't. I feel normal.
HART: Turns out when you test people who have a lot of experience with cannabis, you don't see many disruptions, but if you test people who have sort of limited history with cannabis, you can see some clear pronounced disruptions.
GUPTA: Of course, no one thinks that driving when using marijuana is a good idea, but what scientists can't answer is if there is a safe legal limit and people who use marijuana daily as a medicine should be able to drive. How impaired are they? What is more clear, though, is the effect of marijuana on the young brain.
GRUBER: What we see is a very big difference in people who begin to smoke prior to the age of 16 and those who smoke after age 16. What we call early versus later onset.
GUPTA: Gruber's brain scans show that the white matter, those are the high waves that help the brain communicate from one point to another, are impaired in those who start smoking early.
GRUBER: Maybe that there's underlying white matter conductivity differences.
GUPTA: That's your concern, it sounds like, that those highways, those white matter highways are just more disrupted in people who start smoking early.
GRUBER: That's what we see.
GUPTA: Perhaps not surprising given what we know about the young developing brain.
HOLLAND: That's a very delicate time in brain development, and that's not a good time to be taking any drugs.
GUPTA: Preliminary research shows that early onset smokers are slower at tasks, have lower IQ's later in life, higher risk of strokes, and increased incidents of psychotic disorders. And while these studies are not conclusive, some scientists are still concerned because in 2012 35 percent of high school seniors lit up, and that could mean a generation of kids with damaged brains. And many fear something else.
JOEL VARGAS, ADDICTED TO MARIJUANA: I never really told myself I need help.
GUPTA: A generation of marijuana addicts. When we come back, the truth and the science behind what's being called a growing epidemic.
And later, Charlotte's story. The first and youngest child to try marijuana in Colorado.
GUPTA: This was the day Chaz Moore almost died. Pumped full of drugs like morphine, Dilaudid, valium to quiet a nonstop 48-hour attack.
MOORE: They thought I was going to overdose, and, yes, it was pretty bad.
GUPTA: At his bedside, his father, Sean, watched his son go from being catatonic to what he calls high as a kite.
S. MOORE: How high are you on the morphine?
MOORE: I'm not high on --
S. MOORE: I've watched friends of mine die from taking the same drugs that he took.
GUPTA: You see, Sean was a drug addict, and he had struggled for decades to get clean.
S. MOORE: It was scary.
GUPTA: It was really important for him not to take these drugs if he could avoid them.
S. MOORE: If he could avoid them. I know how addictive they are. I've seen it. It scared the hell out of me.
GUPTA: But Sean is not scared of marijuana and neither is Chaz.
MOORE: This right here, I don't get sick off of it. I can't overdose.
GUPTA: And Chaz is right about that. While there are fatal accidental prescription medicine overdoses every 19 minutes in this country, there are virtually no reports of fatal marijuana overdoses. And it's perhaps one of the biggest reasons most people think pot is safe. In fact, a new study of children showed that by high school only one in five think marijuana is harmful. That's the lowest number in more than two decades and it's something we heard over and over as we travelled around the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not really that harmful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has a lot of benefits. Not really too concerned about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's safe if you're a safe person.
GUPTA: But the experts we spoke to said there is more to the story.
HOLLAND: There are people who compulsively smoke, who want to stop smoking, but they can't stop smoking.
GUPTA: In fact, 9 percent of marijuana users will become dependent. Now that's not as high as other drugs, like heroin. 23 percent of users become addicted, or 17 percent with cocaine, 15 percent with alcohol. But it's still approximately one out of every 11 marijuana smokers.
DR. CHRISTIAN THURSTONE, ADDICTION EXPERT: There is no longer any scientific debate that marijuana is not just psychologically addictive, but also physically addictive.
So give me an update. How are you doing?
GUPTA: Dr. Christian Thurstone runs one of Colorado's largest youth substance abuse treatment clinics. The number of marijuana addicts he treats has tripled in the last three years alone.
THURSTONE: Literally I cried about it. Marijuana is number one on their list of priorities. They have dropped out of life.
VARGAS: Back in the day I would have feel like my day has really started if I didn't high.
GUPTA: Joel Vargas started smoking when he was just 13. By 15 he was smoking more than a dozen times a day. He stopped skateboarding. He even dropped out of school.
VARGAS: I like getting high. I need to get high because my brain is telling me.
THURSTONE: Adolescence, starting at about age 13 have a pretty mature brain reward center, so they can experience rewards and pleasures the same way adults can, but the problem with that is that their prefrontal cortex, which helps people think ahead, control their impulses, that's not fully developed until age 24. That explains why adolescents are much more vulnerable.
GUPTA: There's something else that addiction experts believe is likely happening in the brain. When you smoke pot, the feel-good chemicals that make up marijuana called cannibinoids, remember them? They cause your brain to stop producing its own natural cannibinoids. When you stop smoking, you have no feel good cannibinoids of your own. Until your body kick starts production, you feel lousy, so many people smoke again to feel better.
And today's marijuana could be more addictive. It has more of the psychoactive ingredient, THC, than ever before. Brain researcher Dr. Nora Volcow.
DR. NORA VOLCOW, BRAIN RESEARCHER: If you smoke a very potent marijuana, the 9 THC content is going to go very fact into your brain at a relatively high concentrations and then that increases its rewarding effects and likely transition into addiction.
GUPTA: So how much stronger is it?
You see the barbed wire, obviously, on the fences.
Well, I traveled to Mississippi where marijuana is illegal, but here on the campus of one of the country's oldest universities, Ole Miss, a huge stash of marijuana is under lock and key.
MAHMOUD ELSOHLY, MARIJUANA POTENCY PROJECT: This is our vault.
GUPTA: This is some pretty tight security. I mean, look at this door.
Mahmoud ElSohly runs what's called a Marijuana Potency Project.
What's the potency of this?
ELSOHLY: This is about 8 percent.
GUPTA: For three decades now his team has analyzed weed confiscated from drug busts.
ELSOHLY: This is 36 percent THC. You can smell it. It has a good aromatic smell.
GUPTA: How much is this worry you, 36 percent THC confiscated?
ELSOHLY: Very, very dangerous material. For someone that is not experienced in marijuana smoking takes some of this, and they're going to go into the negative effects of the high, the amount of THC, the psychosis, the irritation, irritability, the paranoia, and all of this.
GUPTA: And while not all the plants are this high, there's no question he's seen a trend. In 1972 the average potency was less than 1 percent THC. Now it's nearly 13 percent.
Are people becoming more obsessed with high THC marijuana? ELSOHLY: I think so. They're starting out with a half a percent and 1 percent, and they get a good high, and then as they continue to use that, it doesn't give them the same high anymore, so they see -- you know, smoking more or high potency material.
GUPTA: It happened to Joel Vargas. After a couple of years of smoking daily, Joel eventually ended up in rehab where he faced mild withdrawal symptoms like irritability, insomnia, nausea.
HOLLAND: It certainly isn't anything nearly as dangerous as abrupt discontinuation of alcohol. You know, for somebody like Joel, going into rehab is really about learning new behaviors more than it is about sort of treating the physiological dependence or tolerance or withdrawal issues.
GUPTA: Joel has been clean now for six months, but these kinds of risks, they don't scare off Charlotte Figi's parents.
M. FIGI: People ask us that a lot. Like, you know, how did you make that decision? It wasn't a decision.
P. FIGI: It wasn't a decision.
M. FIGI: It was the next viable option.
GUPTA: And some would say a radical option. Marijuana for a 5-year- old, but it was an option they hoped would change her life forever.
When we come back, Matt and Paige Figi finally give their Charlotte marijuana. The results are shocking.
GUPTA: It was January 2012, Afghanistan. About 7,000 miles away from his family in Colorado, Matt Figi received this video from his wife, Paige.
M. FIGI: It's horrible seeing these videos when I'm deployed.
GUPTA: It was his 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, seizing. Diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy, she was having 300 seizures a week. Each attack so severe it had the potential to kill her. They had already tried dozens of high-powered drugs.
M. FIGI: We needed to try something else, and at that point in time marijuana was that natural course of action to try.
GUPTA: At home in Colorado, Paige searched for marijuana high in CBD. That's the ingredient some scientists think helps seizures. And also low in THC. Remember, she didn't want to get her daughter stoned. She found a small amount at a Denver dispensary. The owner was surprised that anyone would even want it.
P. FIGI: And they said it's funny because no one buys this. You know. That was the general consensus, that nobody wanted it. It didn't have any effect. GUPTA: Paige paid $800 for a small bag and took it home.
P. FIGI: I had a friend that was starting a business making medicine, and I said, can you help me extract the medicine from this bag of marijuana?
I measured it with a syringe and squirted it under her tongue. It was exciting and very nerve racking.
GUPTA: Holding Charlotte in her arms, Paige waited. An hour ticked by. And then another. And then another.
P. FIGI: She didn't have seizures that day. And then she didn't have a seizure that night.
GUPTA: Did you sit there and look at your watch?
P. FIGI: Yes. Right. I thought this is crazy. And then she didn't have one the next day. And then the next day. And I thought that is -- she would have had 100 by now. And I just -- I know. I just thought this is insane.
M. FIGI: I remember how happy Paige was. It's really working. I can't believe it. Yes, that was pretty amazing to hear.
GUPTA: It had worked. But in just a couple of weeks the excitement was overshadowed by panic. Paige was running out of marijuana and the dispensary didn't have any more of that particular strain. Even if there was more, the monthly price tag would have been astronomical. $2,000, and not a penny of it covered by insurance. But then Paige heard about Stanleys, the six brothers, and their greenhouse of marijuana that is high in CBD.
P. FIGI: I said, oh, my goodness. He says I don't know what to do with it. We're trying these things with it, but no one wants it. It's not sellable. I said just don't touch that because we need that plant.
GUPTA: At first they didn't want to take the risk of giving marijuana to such a young child. But then they met her.
Tell me about the first time you met Matt, Paige, and Charlotte. I'm going to get you misty-eyed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you get all of us crying when we start talking about that little girl.
GUPTA: The Figis had hit the jackpot. A steady supply of high CBD marijuana, and they only had to pay what they can afford.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People have called us the Robin Hoods of marijuana. They say that we sell pot so that we can take care of the kids and the truly less fortunate.
GUPTA: Charlotte was the first of those kids. Late spring 2012 she tried the Stanley special marijuana, and, again, it worked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't tell you what that -- what that means to us.
GUPTA: Gets you, doesn't it, a little bit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it doesn't get you, something is wrong with you. She lived her life in a catatonic state. Now her parents get to meet her for the first time. What a revelation.
GUPTA: The child who'd had 300 seizures a week was now down to just one every seven days.
When I first met Charlotte, March of 2013, it was one year after that first dose of marijuana. After almost two years on a feeding tube, she was now eating on her own. She was talking. Even walking.
M. FIGI: She said please.
GUPTA: But these stories, they are not without their skeptics. One of the country's two hospitals dedicated to Dravet Syndrome in Florida states at present there is no evidence that cannabidiol is effective for the treatment of epilepsy. The American Academy of Pediatrics also opposes cannabis as does the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
P. FIGI: It is such an amazing turn of events that it really can't be a fluke, but I do still wonder.
GUPTA: You still wonder too? Matt?
M. FIGI: Hell no.
GUPTA: You know it's working?
M. FIGI: It's working great.
SHACKELFORD: You just look wonderful.
GUPTA: And Charlotte's doctor, Alan Shackleford, also agrees. Yet, his commitment to medical marijuana has drawn criticism. He has even been called Dr. Feel Good.
How difficult is this for you to talk about as a physician?
SHACKELFORD: We are typically conservative as a profession and probably as individuals. We want more proof and cannabis doesn't have that.
GUPTA: And it's why he has traveled the world to look for researchers who might have the answers. And that took him to the place many call the medical marijuana research capital.
Israel. It might surprise you, but actually research into cannabis and epilepsy started here in the 1970s with studies that showed it can reduce convulsions in rats. Today Shackleford is hoping to start clinical trials in humans there.
SHACKELFORD: We need to understand it well enough that they won't be reluctant to at least give it a thought. At least try it.
GUPTA: And it's not just epilepsy, but researchers in Israel are studying a variety of illnesses.
When we come back, what they're finding up close. And an amazing look inside hospitals and nursing homes where patients are lighting up courtesy of the Israeli government.
GUPTA: As the sun was rising on the ancient city of Jerusalem, the final leg of our journey was just beginning.
DR. BOAZ LEV, ISRAEL MINISTRY OF HEALTH: There had been some great advances here, and I'm proud of it obviously.
GUPTA: Dr. Boaz Lev is with Israel's Ministry of Health. Here they have pioneered marijuana research. They were the first to isolate THC and CBD decades ago. And now the country's ministry licensed 10,000 patients to use marijuana medicinally and has approved more than a dozen studies to treat illnesses like PTSD, pain, Crohn's Disease, even cancer.
LEV: Hopefully this would prove to be the best medication. I really hope so. We're not there yet.
GUPTA: The answers might come from places like this. It's a state- run nursing home outside of Tel Aviv. Residents here are using marijuana for pain, loss of appetite, Parkinson's Disease, and dementia.
Moshe Rute is one of those residents. He was 77 when he smoked his first pipe of marijuana. He's 80 now and he smokes a couple of times a day. It's to help with the pain and the hand tremors caused by a stroke.
It's a mixture of tobacco and marijuana.
He even decided to light up during our interview to stop his hands from shaking.
You are saying your hands are steady because of the marijuana?
MOSHE RUTE, MARIJUANA USER: It is for sure.
GUPTA: It also helps ease a deeper pain hidden from sight. You see, Moshe is a holocaust survivor. When his wife died a couple of years ago, he was haunted by nightmares of his childhood hiding from the Nazis. The marijuana, he says, took him out of the darkness.
RUTE: You dream. You fly.
GUPTA: When you smoke? RUTE: Yes.
GUPTA: There are 19 other patients here. Scientists at Tel Aviv University are now studying their progress. And they call the results outstanding. Including weight gain, improved mood, pain and tremor reduction.
But I can tell you as a doctor it was my next stop that proved the most surprising. This is Israeli's largest hospital, Sheba Medical Center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You put your medical cannabis.
GUPTA: Amache (ph) is using marijuana to help him with the pain and nausea from chemotherapy.
So that's your medicine inside there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take it out, put in your mouth.
GUPTA: And he is doing it inside the hospital.
How are you feeling?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A relief. First of all, in the muscle, in the leg.
GUPTA: And you're not worried about any potential damage to your body?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. The opposite, actually. I really believe I can be cancer-free for a long time if I continue, you know, to consume cannabis.
GUPTA: Yes, he said cancer-free.
Very early studies on mice in Israel, Spain and the United States are now showing the potential of marijuana to kill cancer cells. It's exciting research, but it is still in its infancy, and it's inconclusive.
This program at Sheba is well established. And experts say a teaching tool for using marijuana in other hospitals.
Do you think this could happen in the United States?
SHACKELFORD: I don't know that there's yet enough really concrete evidence of cannabis' benefit that's satisfactory. At least in that context. I think it's going to come.
GUPTA: But it could be slow going.
HOLLAND: The FDA has been great at approving studies. But National Institute of Drug Abuse has been really stonewalling and blocking any studies looking at therapeutic effects of cannabis because that's not their mandate. Their mandate is to look at the harms of drug use VOLCOW: It's very easy to blame an organization.
GUPTA: Dr. Nora Volcow, who is the director of NIDA, says they are not standing in the way. She claims they are not the only government institute that approves marijuana research.
If you would come up with a grant that says, OK, this is going to be a treatment for drug addiction, then it would go to us, but if it's cancer, it goes to the Cancer Institute. If it is schizophrenia, it goes to INH, so the institutes have a mission with certain diseases.
GUPTA: What is clear, there are bureaucratic hoops that most researchers simply don't want to jump through. Neuroscientist Carl Hart.
HART: There are not many people studying marijuana. It's very difficult to get approval to study marijuana.
HOLLAND: What's nice about Israel is that the government is helping the research to happen.
GUPTA: And it's research that could give hope to patients like Charlotte Figi. Scientists in Israel are learning that marijuana use might actually protect the brain, not damage it.
They've been able to show that it can decrease the amount of brain damage from head injuries in mice.
HOLLAND: Right. To be able to give a medicine after the injury to reverse some of the damage, that's huge.
P. FIGI: You want to paint your nails? I'll paint your nails.
M. FIGI: I literally see Charlotte's brain making connections that haven't been made in years. It's almost seeming to build her brain where before it seemed broken.
GUPTA: And while scientists are still at the very early stages of knowing if this is actually happening, I can tell you it was remarkable to see her progress. In the three months since we first met her, we saw a change. She was now talking more.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say puppy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
GUPTA: She's horseback riding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good girl.
GUPTA: She even rides a bike on her own. And a special strain made for Charlotte is now named for her. It's Charlotte's Web.
It is Charlotte's plant. P. FIGI: It's Charlotte's plant. Not anymore. Now it's for all the children.
GUPTA: More than 41 children are using Charlotte's Web here in Colorado. All of them are reporting significant seizure reduction, and there are dozens more on a wait list, hoping, praying that a plant could change their lives. Just like it did for Charlotte.
P. FIGI: I'm going to get you.
GUPTA: You both seem very at peace.
P. FIGI: I'm very at peace, yes. Very peaceful.
M. FIGI: We've been given a great life. It's unfortunate that Charlie has this Dravet Syndrome, but thank God we've got something now that's working.
She's doing so great today.