The pharmaceuticals weren’t working. The 15-year-old boy was having several seizures per day, and his parents were concerned his life was in danger.
So Suzeanna and Matthew Brill, of Macon, Georgia, decided in February to let their son try smoking marijuana — and his seizures stopped for 71 days, they say.
But Georgia is not among the states that have legalized medical marijuana, and the Brills’ decision led to the boy, David, being taken away from his parents, who face possible fines and jail time after being charged with reckless conduct for giving him the drug.
David has now been in a group home for 30 days, and his seizures have returned. He is separated from the service dog that sniffed out his seizures, and he is able to communicate with his parents only during short visitations and phone calls.
They maintain they made the right decision for their son’s health, despite their current predicament.
“Even with the ramifications with the law, I don’t care,” said Matthew Brill, his stepfather. “For 71 days he was able to ride a bike, go play, lift weights. We were able to achieve that with David medicated not from Big Pharma, but David medicated with marijuana.”
Suzeanna Brill said authorities “want to argue the legality of marijuana instead of taking care of the kid.”
In April, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended approval of an epilepsy medication that has an active ingredient, cannabidiol, that’s found in cannabis. The drug treats two rare forms of epilepsy, and, if approved, it would be the first cannabis-derived prescription medicine available in the United States. It does not contain the ingredients that make people high.
But the science is far from settled on whether marijuana, or components of it, can effectively treat seizures, and the parents cautioned that what made sense for them may not for other families.
Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego, said there is some data to suggest cannabis can have anti-epileptic effects, “but not terribly systematic data.”
He said that the Brills’ experience, as a single anecdote, is not proof that cannabis works as a treatment, but added that it should not be dismissed.
“I don’t mean we should rush out and give marijuana to everyone who has epilepsy,” he said, “but I think that there are probably epilepsies that would benefit from an alternative treatment if they’re not controlled by our usual treatments.”
Suzeanna Brill said that she had been upfront with David’s doctors about the marijuana use, and that they hadn’t protested. But then she told the boy’s therapist on April 19, and hours later police were at their door.
The police drug-tested all three of them: Matthew Brill and David tested positive for marijuana, Suzeanna Brill tested negative. The parents admitted to police that they had given their child marijuana, and the officers demanded they stop, Suzeanna Brill said.
“We complied, and within 14 hours of complying we were rushing our son to the hospital,” she said. “And it was one of the most horrific seizures I’ve ever seen.”
The Twiggs County sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
David stayed in the hospital for a week before being taken to the group home, Suzeanna Brill said. The parents were arrested and spent six days in jail, causing Matthew Brill to lose remodeling work, he said.
Matthew Brill is now delivering pizzas, and Suzeanna Brill is taking on extra shifts in a variety of jobs to help raise money for a lawyer. They’ve turned to crowdfunding, but had raised just $1,000 as of Wednesday, with several donations coming after KVUE-TV, a local TV station, reported on them this past weekend.
They hope the lawyer can help them get David back, a process they believe could take as long as a year. They’d like to move to a state with legal medical marijuana.
Despite their legal challenges, they say they did what they needed to as parents.
“Had it not been for me and my husband, my son would probably have been long dead,” Suzeanna Brill said.