It’s late afternoon at the McDaniel family’s Braselton home. Three children — 9, 11 and 16 years old — criss-cross one another, doing the things kids do to wind down after a long day of school.
Their mother, Janel, slumps into the couch, feeling disoriented. She sees stars and a sort of aura around everything in sight. She notices her kids and husband moving about the den, but she can’t hear them.
Cannabis courses through her veins, but she isn’t high. This physical reaction is a warning; her body bracing Janel for a seizure. It sounds scary, but it’s so much better than it used to be — before she started taking Haleigh’s Hope.
McDaniel, who suffers from epilepsy, is one of several hundred in Georgia who hold a state of Georgia Low THC Oil Registration card. It allows her to legally buy three different strains of low-THC cannabis oils to combat symptoms. THC is the ingredient that gives a high.
She and many others headed to Georgia’s state Capitol Wednesday to learn the outcome of the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis’ final meeting. Made up of lawmakers, health care professionals and law enforcement, the panel has met since the summer to discuss possible recommendations for creating a system of in-state growth and distribution for providing the drug.
Following the meeting, members of the commission voted to expand the number of conditions legally treatable with the drug, but declined to pursue the issue of access any further, including refusing to support the cultivation and distribution of marijuana in Georgia.
Under a law passed this spring, physicians can recommend cannabis oil for eight medical conditions, including seizure disorders. Patients obtain a card, which costs $25 and is valid for two years through the registry, that allows them to possess 20 fluid ounces of the medication.
As it stands, those like McDaniel, who rely on the medication, have legal access in Georgia to three strains of cannabis oil — all of which contain low THC levels and high cannabidiol levels.
For those battling epilepsy, marijuana strains rich in cannabidiol are those most likely to help with symptoms.
Cannabidiol is a nonpsychoactive compound occurring naturally in cannabis. Some studies — including one this month in Philadelphia by the American Epilepsy Society — have concluded that the number of convulsive seizures went down by about half on average for those with epilepsy who took the oil.
McDaniel, who has suffered from seizures for about four years now, said that since she started taking cannabis oil, “the difference is night and day.”
McDaniel said her seizures started as violent episodes when she was 31 years old that put her out of commission for days. Now that she takes three doses per day of Haleigh’s Hope — a cloudy, yellowish liquid — her seizures occur only several times a month. And, each episode lasts no longer than 30 seconds.
“I developed epilepsy out of the middle of nowhere,” McDaniel said. “There was no rhyme or reason. When it first started, I would literally be walking and just fall.”
She recounts one occasion in which one of her three children, Claire, 9, found her on the kitchen floor completely unconscious.
Claire remembers the episode as being “scary.”
While McDaniel is legally allowed to take Haleigh’s Hope, there are other strains out there that are even more effective, and less cost-prohibitive, she said — but, those aren’t on the state’s approved list for registered cardholders.
She hopes for a state legislative outcome that will allow for in-state cultivation “so that we have access to other strains, better strains, that might not be so expensive and could be more effective for those suffering from symptoms like mine.”
She said that there is a definite stigma attached to taking cannabis oil.
“People are scared of the word ‘cannabis,’” she said. “What people need to realize is that people like me are not getting high from this. To us, this is not about getting high. It’s about living and getting your life back.”
A self-described teetotaler who said she has also never taken illegal drugs, McDaniel is quick to note that she does not endorse recreational marijuana legalization.
“I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, much less taken drugs, but cannabis oil has changed my life. Before I was on it, I wasn’t able to work,” she said. “I would have to lay there on the couch for hours and hours, watching my husband fix dinner and do all the household chores and take care of the kids.”
Added McDaniel: “Now, I can be somebody again.”