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Heretics, dangerous ideas, and all things extraordinary. Welcome to my blog.

Sep 26

Heretic Thursday: Josh Stanley

Yes, the guy is really on a stage talking about giving pot to little kids. They ought to lock him up.

That was the first thought going through my head when I saw Josh Stanley on stage at TEDxBoulder last Saturday night. It’s probably the first thought lots of people have.

They’re wrong, and so was I.

The six Stanley brothers deserve medals and huge federal funding for medicine development. With current laws and prejudices, they’re more likely to get a quiet “thank you” from the parents of children whose lives they’ve helped save. I get the sense they’ll keep doing what they’re doing either way.

Here’s the big idea: Josh and his brothers have spent years cultivating marijuana plants that are low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (the fun part of marijuana), and high in cannabidiol, or CBD (the medicinal part). What this means is that you can use the plant to treat illness without getting high. They’re trying to turn marijuana into legitimate medicine.

Yes, I know that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. Colorado, Washington, and California have had “medical” marijuana for a while. I’ve heard plenty of good stories about the people pot has helped through terrible illnesses—illnesses like glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis.

I’ve also heard plenty about the epidemic of back pain among college students once the medi card programs were established, something Josh acknowledges up front in his talk.

The “what’s different” part came a few minutes into the talk when Josh flashed up a picture of a six-year-old girl. Her name is Charlotte, an until she was five, she was having 300 grand mal seizures a week. These often caused her heart to stop, necessitating cardiopulmonary resuscitation and a hospital stay. She had lost the ability to walk, talk, and eat, and her parents had signed a “do not resuscitate” order. They were saying their goodbyes to their child.

If you have seen the series on CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s reversal of his stance on marijuana, you know where this is going. The Figis, Charlotte’s parents, had tried everything—the “million dollar tests”, medications, changes in diet—and nothing had worked. They learned that Charlotte had Dravet Syndrome, but most of the treatments were as bad as the disease. Out of options, they considered medical marijuana as a final effort. They bought as much as they could get at a Denver dispensary and began introducing cannabis oil into Charlotte’s diet. The results were miraculous.

Charlotte’s seizures has been happening at a rate of three or four an hour. Using cannabis, they stopped for seven days.

This is the good news / bad news part of the story. The good news was that something had worked. The bad news is that they were running out of that something quickly.

That’s when they heard about the Stanley brothers.

The Stanleys had been developing their strain of low THC / high CBD marijuana (at the time called “The Hippie’s Disappointment”) with little success in the market. No one wanted it. The Stanleys—with serious reservations, it should be noted—provided their strain to the Figis, who sought their doctor’s help in preparing the right dosage. Today, Charlotte is nearly seizure-free. She’s a happy, healthy kid who rides her bike and dances around. How do I know she dances around?

Because she and her parents joined Josh on the stage at TEDxBoulder.

I’ve never been interested in marijuana. I’ve never cared very much one way or the other—it was just something that was around, and there were some movies about smoking up and eating brownies. I was pretty dismissive about medical marijuana. It seemed like exploiting a loophole. Spend 10 minutes with Josh Stanley, though, and you will change your views of marijuana. I did.

Watch Charlotte dance and smile and it won’t even take that long.

I have a soft spot for kids. Once you’ve seen someone like Charlotte get to have her life back, it’s touching—and unforgettable. Laws and biases about marijuana are well-established, especially in the court of public opinion. Josh and his brothers will have an uphill climb in convincing people, but I think they’ve found the right spokesperson (the strain of marijuana Charlotte uses is now called “Charlotte’s Web).

What Stanley and his brothers are trying to do is way outside the norm—it’s an effort that carries the baggage of outdated laws and unfortunate stereotypes. When people talk about the subject at all, it is usually with a dismissive laugh or derisive attack. On top of that, the cultural piece undermines legitimate uses at every turn. Think Cheech and Chong… Harold and Kumar… Dude, Where’s My Car? It’s like friendly fire. Most people don’t need to work too hard to ridicule cannabis—its advocates do a fine job of undermining it.

The politics of marijuana are maddeningly complex, involving jurisdictional squabbles, variations from state to state, etc. What’s drastically simple is that Charlotte can’t leave Colorado (my friend Erika Napoletano has already written about the talk (and quite eloquently), so get over there and read that). The kid has found a medicine that works, but she can only have it in this state.

That’s why Josh was on the stage last Saturday night. The legitimate use of and illegitimate laws against the natural, medical use of marijuana unfairly penalize countless adults and children. Rules conflict with values, and a cause is born. Through their foundation, Realm of Caring, Josh Stanley and his brothers are changing lives and changing minds.

Giving pot to little kids? When it literally saves their lives, that’s one of the kindest things I can imagine.

  • Wow. Really powerful stuff. I look forward to learning more.

  • Cam

    I was at TedX Boulder as well and this talk was the highlight of my night. A touching story and a wake up call to those with narrow minds.

  • Thanks Eryc and Cam. I can’t remember when I’ve laughed and cried more in a 10-minute window.

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