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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
Weed 2: Cannabis Madness
Aired April 6, 2015 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In his documentary "Weed."
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: You have looked at the evidence.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's real science now out there.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Admits he was flat-out wrong about weed.
GUPTA (voice-over): A year-long journey that changed what many of us thought about marijuana, myself included.
(on camera): I think we have been terribly and systematically misled.
(voice-over): We used to only picture this. Then we showed you this, medical marijuana treating seizures, pain, dozens of other ailments.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charlotte is doing amazing, just better and better each month.
GUPTA: But we learned this wasn't the end of the story. It was just the beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we went from about 150 calls a month to over 4,000.
GUPTA: There are still so many issues to be addressed. The federal government says marijuana is among the most addictive drugs with no medicinal value. Many serious scientists say they're wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a medicine.
GUPTA: It's the politics of pot, pitting policy against patients, trapped in the middle, sick, qualified people who want medical marijuana, but can't get it because it's illegal.
(on camera): If you tried to go back to Ohio with drugs and medication?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will be arrested.
GUPTA (voice-over): All for a plant that you're going to see can work wonders for pain in a grown man, M.S. for a woman at the peak of her life, and seizures in a little girl. We traveled the globe asking scientists, patients and policy-makers
for a solution.
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And this is "Weed 2: Cannabis Madness."
This time, our journey begins in New Jersey, ironically called the Garden State. It's the summer of 2013, a quiet neighborhood diner about to become the site of a headline-making confrontation between a frantic father, Brian Wilson, and the outspoken governor, Chris Christie, all over Wilson's 2-year-old daughter, Vivian.
BRIAN WILSON, FATHER: I was wondering what the holdup, because it's been like two months now.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Sir, because...
B. WILSON: This is very well documented.
CHRISTIE: These are complicated issues.
B. WILSON: Very simple issue.
CHRISTIE: I know you think it's simple.
B. WILSON: It is.
DR. ORRIN DEVINSKY, DIRECTOR, NYU COMPREHENSIVE EPILEPSY CENTER: It was a David and Goliath moment.
B. WILSON: Please don't let my daughter die, Governor.
DEVINSKY: You have got a governor who is one of the leading Republicans in the nation, and this dad who has got a little girl who he's desperately worried and in love with, who just wants to do the best thing for.
GUPTA: You see, Brian Wilson's daughter, Vivian, was dying, her brain continuously locked in seizure and nothing had worked. The Wilsons were pinning their hopes on medical marijuana.
They had read about marijuana on the Internet and they saw stories about it saving lives, like little Charlotte Figi, whose story was told in our first documentary, "Weed."
MEGHAN WILSON, MOTHER: I remember I was actually at the gym on the treadmill and I saw a preview. I was watching the TV, and just so excited, because I knew that everything was going to change at that moment.
GUPTA: They hoped marijuana would rescue Vivian from the virtual prison she lives in, where bright lights, loud sounds and patterns can all induce a seizure. That's why she wears that patch on her eye.
M. WILSON: If she could be blindfolded, she would be seizure-free. It's everything. It's all visual stimuli. She can't leave the house.
GUPTA (voice-over): Vivian, do you know this book?
(voice-over): Vivian and I first played together in her darkened, quiet, very controlled bedroom.
It quickly became clear how tremendous a toll this isolation takes on Vivian, but also the entire family. No one here has a normal life, including Vivian's older sister, 4-year-old Adele.
M. WILSON: Like, every day on the way home from school, she is like, can we stop at the park? And I'm like, we can't stop at the park because Vivian's nurse leaves at 5:00 and we have to be home.
GUPTA: What would Adele say about that?
M. WILSON: She will say, we can't. When we pass the park, she says, those kids are at the park, but we can't go to the park because Vivian has seizures. And that kills you, you know?
DEVINSKY: They're so severely affected.
GUPTA (voice-over): New York University neurologist Dr. Orrin Devinsky is Vivian's doctor. He's also one of the world's leading epilepsy experts.
DEVINSKY: I think for the families who have given Western a really good chance -- and there are a lot of them -- and Western medicine has failed their children.
GUPTA: But the Wilsons now found themselves in the political cross fire of pot. Marijuana was legalized for medicinal use here in New Jersey right before Christie took office in January of 2010.
It was done by his Democratic predecessor. But, once in office, Christie blocked the legislation for more than a year. He eventually signed one of the strictest, most limiting medical marijuana bills to date, just six approved stores in the entire state, and perhaps most damaging for Vivian, no edible forms of marijuana allowed, which was crucial. The only option then for this 2-year-old would be to inhale it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Talk to Brian Wilson.
GUPTA: Protests erupted across the state. And that's why Brian Wilson took things into his own hands that day in August.
B. WILSON: We have had our experts reach to you. Have you heard from our doctors?
CHRISTIE: I have read everything that has been put in front of me.
GUPTA: It became known as the dust-up in the diner.
M. WILSON: I mean, it was all over CNN. It was national news. It was like Libya, Vivian Wilson's father on CNN. I mean, it was crazy.
B. WILSON: Please don't let my daughter die, Governor. GUPTA (on camera): Hi, how are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to meet you.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's a battle these families understand better than anyone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no hope left in Miami. There's nothing -- there was nothing else to do.
GUPTA: Each of these families wanted medical marijuana for their sick children. They also fought to get it in their home states, but lost. So they moved to Colorado, where it's legal. Desperate and determined, they have become known as medical marijuana refugees.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came from Arizona.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We left a lot back in Alabama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unfortunately, we had to break the news to his folks that we're not going to be coming back to Texas.
GUPTA: More than 100 families moving to get the marijuana they had seen in our last documentary. It's called Charlotte's Web, named for the little girl we profiled. It's a plant that doesn't get you high, but is loaded with a chemical called cannabinoid, or CBD, which seems to help reduce seizures, even when nothing else has worked.
It changed Charlotte's life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the drier it is, it will extract more.
GUPTA: Thousands of parents called to ask the growers, Josh Stanley and his brothers, if it could possibly work for their children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tell them, potentially, it could. Nothing is for sure. Then I say, well, unfortunately you have to move to Colorado.
GUPTA (on camera): And the reason they have to move to Colorado is what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because anything that's grown in Colorado has to stay in Colorado.
B. WILSON: It's the most absurd idea that we would have to do this to get medicine.
GUPTA (voice-over): But it's the law. Marijuana is illegal federally. Even if you're prescribed it legally in a medical marijuana state, even if it works, even if it is your last hope, you're out of luck. You can't carry it across state lines.
So, for the Wilsons, completely uprooting their lives and moving seemed to be the only option to help Vivian. B. WILSON: It's the hardest thing in the world to have to do. We
have all our family here. We have our jobs. There's so much that we would have to do.
GUPTA: But just weeks after the dust-up in the diner, just around the time the Wilsons allowed us to start filming their story exclusively, we received word that Governor Christie had eased his stance.
Eventually, the state of New Jersey did allow the edible form of marijuana after all. But the Wilsons still had another roadblock. They couldn't get their doctors to prescribe it.
DEVINSKY: There's a certain level within the epilepsy community of just fear that you could do more harm than good, and until you go through the standard process, you should be conservative.
GUPTA: And, by standard process, he means scientific research. And, as you're about to learn, that is nearly impossible to conduct here in the United States.
DEVINSKY: It's time to reform the system.
M. WILSON: I love you so much. Have fun on the airplane.
GUPTA: Leaving people like the Wilsons in a painful and potentially deadly limbo -- the exclusive journey to save their daughter when we come back.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's high noon at the Indispensary in Colorado Springs. Business is booming at one of the state's largest medical marijuana dispensaries.
Customers run the gamut of ages and ailments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Busy day. it's always a busy day, yes, sir.
GUPTA: Each strain, a different high, each bud a different benefit, each leaf treating a different ailment.
(on camera): Everything from Mental Floss to AK-47 to Green Crack.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
GUPTA: The crazy names. Did you name any of these?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no.
GUPTA: No. (voice-over): The names are quirky. But the owner says this is serious medicine.
(on camera): How hard is this to do?
JOSH STANLEY, INDISPENSARY: Good luck. Good luck. It's tough. It requires persistence, patience and luck.
GUPTA (voice-over): This is Josh Stanley and his five brothers. They're a handsome, well-educated, tight-knit group, all working together to make millions in Colorado's medical marijuana.
(on camera): So, how have things changed here?
JOSH STANLEY: You're looking at a new crop. This is a never-ending cycle.
GUPTA: The Stanleys sell many different kinds of medical marijuana. High-THC strains tend to be the moneymakers, but they're now famous for growing a less profitable plant called Charlotte's Web.
It's low in THC, but high in CBD, cannabidiol. Remember that name. It's the key therapeutic chemical doctors are using to treat everything, from chronic pain to lupus, to Crohn's disease, and epilepsy.
(on camera): So, 80 percent of this farm is now a high-CBD/low-THC. This is the exact opposite of what people think of when they think of marijuana. This won't get you high.
JOSH STANLEY: You can set the whole hippie population of Colorado loose on this plant, and you're just going to be looking at a bunch of disappointed hippies.
GUPTA (voice-over): The Stanleys are not concerned about disappointing hippies. They have seen this plant change lives. They have a brand-new lab, manned with scientists who are turning their plants into medicines. Brother Joel Stanley is in charge of that part of the business.
JOSH STANLEY, INDISPENSARY: It wasn't a world that I knew, so we kind of had to dive into this and learn about how to make plant extract.
GUPTA: Joel was reluctant at first to get involved. He avoided marijuana most of his life. But the spring of 2009, he was working in Texas on the oil fields when his oldest brother, Josh, asked him to join the new family business.
JOEL STANLEY: And I laughed because I thought it was just a foot in the door to legalization. I didn't think it was medicinal. The first three patients that I met were cancer patients, who looked me in the eye and told me that, if they didn't have the anti-nausea effects and the appetite stimulant and the help sleeping, that they wouldn't have survived chemotherapy. And I believed them.
GUPTA (on camera): That was sort of your time of conversion? JOEL STANLEY: That was my turning point.
GUPTA (voice-over): And now, on this mountainside, they expect to grow more than 1,000 pounds of medical marijuana in 2014. Some is sold to smoke. Some is sold as an oil or a tincture to ingest.
(on camera): So what we're talking about is literally taking this and turning it into this?
JOEL STANLEY: That's right.
GUPTA (voice-over): The scientists here, some of whom have worked at major pharmaceutical companies, are focused on both making the medications and maintaining strict quality control.
JOEL STANLEY: We can test for pesticides. We can test for molds, mildews. We can test for residual solvents.
GUPTA: Testing for contamination, it's one of the biggest hurdles to creating a safe product. In fact, recent studies on the contamination of medical marijuana are pretty alarming. One paper in the journal "Toxicology" showed pesticide residue as high as 69 percent in a batch of medical marijuana.
It's one of the things that concerns mainstream doctors about medical marijuana, safety, as well as uniformity and reliability.
DR. EDWARD MAA, NEUROLOGIST: The major issue that physicians have is in the consistency of the product. How do you know what the person is getting? And the answer is, we don't.
GUPTA: Neurologist Dr. Edward Maa is the chief of Denver's Health Epilepsy Program. He's one of several mainstream doctors now researching the Stanleys' marijuana after hearing about its dramatic results.
MAA: My ears perked up. I was like, well, maybe this is something that we should be investigating.
GUPTA: For years, Dr. Maa steered clear of cannabis because the government classified it as illegal. Yet, ironically, when he recently surveyed his own patients, 33 percent of them were already using medical marijuana.
MAA: I was just shocked at how many people were actually using it.
GUPTA (on camera): What did you expect before you got those numbers back?
MAA: I was guessing maybe 5, 10 percent.
GUPTA (voice-over): And that is part of the problem. Medical marijuana patients have self-medicated for years, anxious to get relief, but with very little guidance on how to do so. That's something that concerns the Wilsons.
M. WILSON: Don't know if these people in New Jersey know how to grow these types of strains.
B. WILSON: Yes. None of the dispensary owners are growers. These are just people who had political connections who got a dispensary.
GUPTA: And by early October 2013, there was only one dispensary open in the entire state. They don't sell a high-CBD strain. The Wilsons believe it could still be at least a year before they will. That's a year Vivian might not have.
B. WILSON: Every seizure does damage to her brain, to her body, everything. How much longer do we wait?
GUPTA: They have got to do something. Not ready to move, they want to still try it.
So, they're going to leave their familiar neighborhood behind to see firsthand if the marijuana they have heard so much about could help Vivian.
(on camera): Do you think this is going to work?
B. WILSON: For me, it has to work, because, if it doesn't, then I don't know where that leaves us.
GUPTA (voice-over): Just days later, Vivian Wilson gets ready for the trip of a lifetime, a trip filled with danger, since all the stimulation of a plane ride could induce seizures high up in the sky. Vivian's future and life is on the line.
M. WILSON: I love you so much. Have fun on the airplane.
GUPTA (voice-over): It was a trip that began with a tearful, anxious departure and fear for Vivian's fragile health.
She suffers from life-threatening seizures, so much worry, yet, thankfully, this part of their journey was surprisingly smooth. With her grandmother and father by her side, Vivian was seizure-free. A long plane ride from New Jersey to Colorado ends with a warm welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, precious.
GUPTA: Vivian is finally going to try medical marijuana, cannabis, and the Stanley brothers have been working hard to get it ready. But just an hour after her arrival...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brian, Brian, she's going with her face.
B. WILSON: OK. Well, she's seizing. Bring her over. GUPTA: Vivian starts having seizure, one after the other. Brian rushes to get her anti-seizure medication. It's hard on Vivian and on Brian, and some of his doubts start to rush back in.
B. WILSON: It's always stressful wherever we go. I have all faith that this is going to work, but, with anything you try, there's always that nagging suspicion that we're going to be the ones it doesn't work for.
GUPTA: Despite the rough night, the next morning begins with hope that relief is in sight. To meet the strict state standards, Brian establishes residency in Colorado by renting a small apartment. Vivian meets with two doctors for a thorough physical.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many seizure per day?
GUPTA: Both doctors approve her need for cannabis and write recommendations for medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It went good?
B. WILSON: Yes.
GUPTA: By sunset, they're ready. Little Vivian has no idea of what's about to happen.
B. WILSON: OK. Hey, Vivian, ready for your (INAUDIBLE)?
GUPTA: That's it, right there, a tiny amount of oil squirted into her mouth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job, sweetheart.
GUPTA: Now they just watch and wait. Over the next 24 hours, Vivian's seizures slowly decrease.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is she doing?
B. WILSON: She's doing really good.
GUPTA: To celebrate, a family picnic, outside, filled with activity, balloons with patterns, decorations, and lots of sunlight. Any of these things could have previously induced a seizure. It's an emotional moment for a dad, watching his daughter finally have freedom.
B. WILSON: She used to be able to do this outside, but not -- this is what I'm starting to -- yes.
GUPTA: Brian believes the marijuana is working. But, as you're about to see, Vivian is by no means cured.
After an hour in the direct sun, Vivian has a seizure. Brian rushes to inject the potent emergency rescue drugs that will stop the seizures and then places an oxygen mask in case those same drugs stop Vivian from breathing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was out.
B. WILSON: Yes. We pushed it.
GUPTA: Now, with the epilepsy rescue drugs still in her system, you can see just for yourself how powerful they are.
B. WILSON: She's absolutely doped up right now, though. Watch her trying to walk. Watch her trying to do anything.
GUPTA: This is difficult to watch, but it does raise this important point. The traditional drugs used to treat epilepsy can be more dangerous than cannabis.
Vivian's doctor, epilepsy expert Orrin Devinsky:
DEVINSKY: I think one of the reasons marijuana is probably safe is it's related to the cannabidiol receptors, which, if you have too much stimulation or inhibition of them, they don't shut off breathing or respiration.
GUPTA: And that's key. The current potent epilepsy impact many parts of the brain, including the brain stem. They can essentially shut off the body's vital functions if you take too much. Marijuana does not do that.
And that's why it's virtually unheard of to have a marijuana overdose. It's one of the reasons so many doctors are starting to change their minds on cannabis.
But we are talking about children, young children. And that's going to understandably raise concerns. The latest research shows that some strains of marijuana do have a profound effect on the brains of users under the age of 25.
DEVINSKY: THC in some good studies have been linked to psychiatric disorders, memory disorders in children under 16. So, even though it's low-THC content, it's still THC is more potent than CBD, so there may be long-term side effects.
GUPTA (on camera): What are you worried about the most in the long run?
MAA: The fact that we don't understand the long-term effects of this medication in brain developments.
GUPTA (voice-over): These are tough choices, made even tougher when you uproot your whole life for marijuana.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do a lot of fund-raising and get a lot of friend's help to get us here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, we left. Daddy is at home in Cleveland.
GUPTA: They come from all walks of life, a stay-at-home mom from Ohio, an insurance salesman from Alabama, a nurse practitioner from Florida.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's exciting to think about the opportunity for her, I mean, to hold her head up, to be able to look at us and say, mom, dad.
GUPTA: But now they're trapped.
(on camera): You can't take the medicine back to Florida, can you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. They would take my child away. I'm pretty sure. That's my fear, because...
GUPTA: They would take your child away for giving him his medicine?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
MAA: This is the problem we're talking between the federal and the state level. This conflict is really driving families apart.
GUPTA: And that's just crazy.
B. WILSON: It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy. I try not to think of it at this point. I'm just trying to get some quick results in Vivian, so that we know this is the path to continue on.
GUPTA (voice-over): Over the next couple of days, they see some startling results. Vivian goes from 75 seizures a day to just 10. The Wilsons are now more convinced than ever they have to keep Vivian on marijuana, but how? Financially, they aren't ready to move here full-time.
And yet New Jersey doesn't have the resources to grow what they need. So, as they head home, they don't know what the future holds.
B. WILSON: We're just going to have to hope for the best in the meantime.
GUPTA: Their hope could lie with a brand-new pharmaceutical...
(on camera): Wow.
(voice-over): ... from these top-secret fields overseas -- an exclusive look inside when we come back.
GUPTA: We just a couple of hours outside of London. We're on our way to visit GW Pharmaceuticals. They're a company that makes medicines from the actual marijuana plant.
Now, although this is done with the express permission of the U.K. government, we did have to sign confidentiality agreements and cannot disclose exactly where we're going to be located. You see, marijuana is illegal in just about every part of this country, except for the secret labs that we're about to enter.
Wow! This is pretty spectacular. Are you used to the smell?
DR. JEFFREY GUY, GW PHARMACEUTICALS: I'm not particularly partial to the smell.
GUPTA (voice-over): If you had Smell-i-vision on your TV, you'd be overpowered by now. It's a lot of pot. This greenhouse is the size of a football field, and they have several more just like it throughout the United Kingdom.
The lighting, temperature, humidity, all monitored by a top-secret central computer that keeps those conditions constant. And there are dozens of scientists regularly tending the plants.
(on camera): This is probably the most TLC for a weed I've ever heard of.
GUY: One would hope so. Absolutely.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Jeffrey Guy says it has to be this way, because they're trying to do something no other pharmaceutical company in the world is attempting: turning the actual marijuana plant into a prescription drug.
(on camera): When you look out at all of this, what comes to your mind?
GUY: I look at this, and I think we can make generations of medicines over the next 25 or 30 years.
GUPTA (voice-over): Medicines for illnesses like Alzheimer's, diabetes, PTSD and epilepsy, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and Crone's. The key to making those medications is inside these simple-looking leaves and understanding the hundreds of chemicals, some more therapeutic than others. Those are the cannabinoids.
GUY: In our research, we're able to see what each individual cannabinoid does. So each one represents a potential new medicine for us. We can then breed into the plant the materials that will provide us with a range of beneficial effects.
GUPTA: Designer cannabis plants are then reduced to a whole plant extract, and that's crucial, according to the granddaddy of all marijuana research, Israel's Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.
(on camera): When they've tried to make drugs using certain compounds from marijuana, it's met with limited success. Why is it that when you take certain compounds out and try to make a drug, it doesn't seem to work as well?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, one of the reasons possibly is because the THC works better when cannabidiol is there. So if you have both, it works better. GUPTA: Mechoulam calls it the entourage effect, and that's what GW is
doing. Every extract will have all the plant's chemicals in it. The extract is then packaged as an approved prescription spray.
In order to increase the chances of getting that approval, every step -- from growing to harvesting to manufacturing -- is all carefully controlled, regulated and rigorously tested to strict standards, so that every plant, every extract, every dose is identical, safe and effective.
It is an expensive and painstakingly slow process. It has taken hundreds of millions of dollars and a decade to develop their first drug Sativex, for the unrelenting pain and spasms brought on by multiple sclerosis.
(on camera): This is a place you walk?
(voice-over): As a neurosurgeon myself, I was curious just how well this medicine could work. Theresa Pointer was diagnosed with M.S. in February of 2004. For years she struggled with pain and exhaustion. She tried just about everything, but found the drugs prescribed to her were either ineffective or had awful side effects.
But one day in 2005, she read in the newspaper about clinical trials for a marijuana-based medicine.
(on camera): Have you ever tried cannabis? And what were your thoughts on it?
THERESA POINTER, M.S. PATIENT: No, no. I mean, ever since I was a little girl, my mum had always said to me, you know, "Don't do drugs, don't do drugs."
GUPTA (voice-over): But nearly wheelchair bound, Teresa was desperate: a spray to the back of her throat several times a day, even once during our interview. Her pain and muscle spasms are now well- controlled.
POINTER: So just the relief to be able to have a couple of sprays before I go to bed and feel comfortable enough to just go to sleep.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The risk of side effects are pretty low.
GUPTA: Neurologist Dr. Ely Silber describes Sativex for some of his patients.
DR. ELY SILBER (on camera): Some people feel slightly dizzy and light-headed, if you want to call it, slightly stoned. Some people might feel slightly tired with it.
GUPTA: But according to GW studies, only 6 percent of patients stopped taking the drug because of the side effects. More than 50 percent did get relief and continued on the drug. All of that makes it a potentially powerful medicine for the 2.3 million M.S. sufferers worldwide. It's now available in 25 countries but not the United States, where it's still under investigation. (on camera): Why so much more stringent in the United States?
GUY: I think there is a greater level of rigor at all levels of regulatory inquiry in the U.S.
GUPTA (voice-over): Like any drug in the United States, cannabis would have to go through rigorous testing, research and approval by the FDA. But after that, things start to get tricky.
You see, marijuana also needs the approval of other governmental agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the Drug Enforcement Administration. This is, of course, difficult, if not possible.
Why? Because in the United States, marijuana is illegal and classified by the government as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. That means it's considered to be among the most addictive drugs and is not recognized as having any medicinal benefit. And that's why what I'm about to tell you is so ironic.
DR. MICHAEL BOSWICK, RESEARCHER, MAYO CLINIC: The irony is that the federal government has patented one of the important chemicals in the -- in the plant.
GUPTA(on camera): The government of the United States has a patent on a substance for medicinal purposes at the same time that they say it has no medicinal purpose?
GUPTA (voice-over): Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. Michael Boswick is talking about United States patent number 6630507. It's held by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the exclusive use of cannabinoids for certain treatments.
BOSWICK: I was stunned and it really feels to me like the dog in the manger, that the federal government is sitting on this wonderful thing -- wonderful thing, and not letting anybody else do anything with it.
GUPTA: And when we went to the government to ask about it, none of the agencies involved would comment.
DR. ORRIN DEVINSKI: We're being handcuffed by the government, preventing us from doing the right trials.
GUPTA: In fact, a 2013 search through the U.S. National Library of Medicine revealed 2,000 recent papers on marijuana. But the majority of them explored the harm; only 6 percent investigated the benefits.
Many believe that's the result of a draconian system gone awry, resulting in marijuana becoming one of the country's most controlled substances. And many people believe that has to change.
But it was one of the experts calling for that change that surprised me the most, Dr. Nora Walker. She is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That's the very agency that many say has blocked a good deal of cannabis research.
DR. NORA WALKER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE: If the researchers feel that this is an impediment to them doing actually scientific work, this is something that should be addressed.
GUPTA: On the front lines of that battle, the son of a political dynasty.
Coming up, how this anti-drug crusader is fighting to get cannabis drugs to patients like Vivian.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Adele, can you put some shoes on?
GUPTA: It's early November 2013 at the Wilson home. Just a few days earlier, Vivian's parents were surprised by a call from one of the only two dispensaries currently open in the entire state of New Jersey. They stay they have a strain of cannabis that is low in psychoactive THC and high in therapeutic CBD.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
GUPTA: After a year of fighting Governor Chris Christie...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vivian.
GUPTA: ... and then months searching for doctors to prescribe cannabis, the Wilsons are finally getting marijuana in their hometown. Once they pick up the cannabis at the dispensary, they're confused.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's 0.13 percent THC and 0.13 percent CBD?
GUPTA: This isn't like picking up a standard prescription at the pharmacy. There are no standard doses or federal guidelines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your CBD is at 3.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CBDA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. That's the one that you want.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CBD.
GUPTA: But they leave uncertain, not knowing exactly what they're getting.
And here's another problem: what they get at the dispensary are leaves Vivian can't use.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how are they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going to do?
GUPTA: It's up to her parents to make medicine out of those leaves. For that, they're using this glorified crock pot to activate the plant and turn it into oil. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So once we have oil, we still don't know exactly
what the ratio is, because it's not going to be exactly what this says, because it just went through this heating process.
GUPTA: It's trial and error. Something we heard from so many medical marijuana patients.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do a mixture of THC, CBN and CBD.
GUPTA: Frank Diocco (ph) had to experiment with many different strains of marijuana to find the right kind to treat his chronic pain from arthritis from an old football injury.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have extreme pain in my knee. And I want to get medicated faster, I'll do (UNINTELLIGIBLE). My body is exhausted; my knee is going to be sore, maybe a little swelling on the joint, maybe I'll sit down and smoke some flower.
GUPTA: Prescribed painkillers had made him sick, so he was desperate and willing to try something new.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within 15, 20 seconds, the pain just went away. It was gone, absolutely exited the body.
GUPTA: Turns out the most common use for medical marijuana is pain. Early studies suggest that cannabis binds to receptors in the brain and the body to reduce inflammation to provide a buffer against pain. Yet according to Sanford-trained Dr. Margaret Getty, there is no one- step standard cannabis treatment for pain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So patients are kind of let loose in the sense that they have to try things and find out which strain works. It might be different at different times.
GUPTA: Frank now works in the Stanleys' lab, where he helps to make the medicines that he takes morning, noon and night, a variety of different stains. He says his pain is gone, and he functions well. It's a mix that works for him.
(on camera): Is it risky to be doing the trial-and-error process?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some risks if you don't know your baseline for what milligram your edibles that you can ingest. If you ingest too much, I mean, you could, like, pass out.
DEVINSKY: Some of the stories I've heard have been people that followed recipes, and I've had children admitted to psychiatric emergency rooms, psychotic from the marijuana product.
I'm good. How are you.
GUPTA (voice-over): That is why Devinsky feels job that No. 1 is to make medical marijuana safe, reliable and effective.
One way to do that is through research, which is why, since the summer of 2013, he's been trying to begin the first-ever United States research trial on GW'S new cannabis-based epilepsy drug. But the hurdles have been nearly insurmountable.
DEVINSKY: If you're trying to look at the potential medicinal benefits, it's very hard to get funding.
GUPTA: After many months, Devinsky was able to secure funding and approval from his hospital, New York University. But getting the government, specifically the FDA, the DEA and the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement to sign off was nearly impossible. One of their biggest issues was security.
(on camera): So as part of this, you had to have a safe put in?
DEVINSKY: This is new and only for this project.
GUPTA (voice-over): A 1,200-pound safe, watched by multiple security cameras and alarm systems, all for a drug so low in THC that it can't get you high. And even with that, Devinsky is still waiting for final federal approval.
PATRICK KENNEDY: The failure of the federal government, through its regulatory arms -- DEA, FDA and the like -- has led to a public health debacle.
GUPTA: Patrick Kennedy, with his deep political connections and famous name, is pushing the feds to fast-track cannabis research.
KENNEDY: They ought to get at it quickly. The FDA and the federal government, they ought to just get it done. We just need a greater urgency to this issue overall.
GUPTA: It's a bold statement for Kennedy, a recovering addict who's been outspoken that making medical marijuana legal in any way is dangerous. That more children will be able to access it and more smokers will become addicted it to.
Now he thinks the only way to remove that risk is to have all medical marijuana products federally regulated, rigorously studied and strictly controlled.
KENNEDY: I think making this truly a medicine, as opposed to forcing people to go on the street and try to buy something that they can't determine whether it is what it says it is.
GUPTA: But he understands why extremely sick patients want marijuana now. Remember his father, Ted Kennedy, died of brain cancer, and his brother lost his leg to cancer.
KENNEDY: I wouldn't have begrudged any member of my family with cancer, and they've all had cancer. Anything that would have mitigated the chemotherapy.
GUPTA: It's why Kennedy is meeting with everyone from the FDA to the White House to speed things up. But it takes time. Time the Wilsons don't have. They're finally going to try their new homemade cannabis oil. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We weren't able to get it tested or anything, so
we really still don't each know what it is. Which is why we have to be really cautious.
GUPTA: Behind closed doors, Brian tries it to make sure he doesn't get high. He doesn't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Open up.
GUPTA: So Vivian is next. It doesn't work.
Nothing in New Jersey seems to work for them. Vivian's seizures won't stop. Is moving the only option left for the Wilsons?
GUPTA: The Wilsons' optimism is fading as fast as the falling February rain. They've rented their house, packed up their lives, finally headed to Colorado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We figured there would be a way to make it work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's crazy. Just crazy that the program is such a failure. All right.
GUPTA: That's Vivian's nurse screaming for help. Vivian is helping a bad seizure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. Did it hurt?
She's gotten all these welts. She's having afternoon seizures. Something's not right.
GUPTA: It would be one of Vivian's last seizures in this home. Soon after, a house once filled with life, is empty. The Wilsons are leaving everything behind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bye, eyeless snowman.
GUPTA (on camera): When you look at some of these situations, families uprooting their lives and moving to Colorado, what does through your mind? Somewhat as a doctor but just as a citizen?
DEVINSKY: I think it's a strange point we have. I think that these people can't get access for the most severe cases to something that might be very helpful for their child and might even be potentially life-saving for their child.
GUPTA (voice-over): Something Devinsky is hoping to change. He's finally gotten the government green light to start research trials on GW Pharmaceuticals' cannabis-based epilepsy drug. It's too late for Vivian. But not for the hundreds of children in the trials.
DEVINSKY: It is exciting to be at this point in medicine where, you know, we're going to hopefully, in the near future, get some answers about a drug that's been part of our species' history for thousands of years.
GUPTA: But those answers won't come immediately. In the meantime, the Stanleys aren't slowing down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks really good.
GUPTA: They finally succeed in getting Charlotte's Web out of Colorado and into hands of patients in California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got your medicine.
How about splitting families up?
GUPTA: Now the brothers have their sights set nationally. In states like Oklahoma.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't make them pick up and have to move to a state like Colorado.
GUPTA: In fact, 15 more states are now considering legalizing medical marijuana.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are other people in this room who need the immediate gratification of that drug.
GUPTA: The ever-growing support of mainstream medicine doesn't hurt. In a recent poll of nearly 2,000 doctors, 76 percent said they're in favor of using medical marijuana for a needy patient. Now six medical marijuana states have expanded their laws to allow card-carrying medical marijuana patients to bring cannabis medicine into their home state. Yet, unfortunately for the Wilsons, New Jersey is not one of them.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Literally the same hour he said that, our friend's daughter was taken off a ventilator after a 26-hour seizure.
GUPTA: Fifteen months old.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you're like, yes, that could be Vivian, you know?
GUPTA (voice-over): Tuesday, February 25, Denver, Colorado. Brian is setting up house, unpacking boxes, picking up a two-month supply of Vivian's new cannabis medicine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That will be $687.37 for the total.
GUPTA: Everything is in place when Vivian, Megan and Adele arrive a few days later. After settling in, Vivian's ready for her first dose.
GUPTA: So this is it, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's been a long road. GUPTA: It really has.
(voice-over): She's a little tired, but ready.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ready to take some medicine?
GUPTA: The first of many doses, the beginning of a new life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
I am so happy with this neighborhood, and I needed something to make this really positive. I needed to be somewhere that I was going to just absolutely love.
GUPTA: And create new memories. Yet there's always the constant reminder of everything they left behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're stuck here.
GUPTA (on camera): Vivian can't leave this state as things stand now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. She can't -- she can't cross any borders. And the grandparents aren't going to get to see their grandchildren much, and it's really sad.
GUPTA (voice-over): In the midst of the sadness, a realization that the sacrifice might have meaning.
(on camera): Was this a battle that was won?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clearly, we're here now. Vivian does not have what she needs in New Jersey, so in that respect we didn't win. But there's a conversation going on, and people are talking about medical marijuana lot more.
And for the Wilsons, other patients and dedicated scientists, all who believe this plant might be able to change lives, that is a victory.
GRAPHIC: Several days later, the Wilsons went for their first family outing. A walk around their new neighborhood. Something they rarely did with Vivian before. They hope it's the first of many.