Hawk’s gray eyes sometimes change from a light green to a slate blue as if reflecting his mood.
They shine with a joy that makes it seem the young boy knows something the world has selfishly failed to remember.
But they did not always shine. It took an extract from the marijuana plant to bring Hawk out from the “zombie fog” that darkened his world, like the sun’s glowing rays cutting through a summer storm cloud.
Only then did his mother, Katie Harrison, know that her beloved son, now going on 3 years old, recognized who she was, confirming a mother and son bond she never stopped believing in.
“So to see him recognize me and acknowledge me ... is something that cannabis has given us that we didn’t have before,” Katie said.
And thanks to a state law passed this year, Katie, a Hall County resident, can now legally possess and administer cannabis oil to Hawk here in Georgia.
Hawk experiences seizures resulting from a brain hemorrhage when he was just 3 weeks old.
For two weeks, he lay in a coma, and Katie did not know if Hawk would ever wake up. When he finally did, the damage was evident, including some cognitive impairment.
“(Doctors) gave us like a 2 percent chance that he would ever be ‘normal,’” Katie said. “In general, they didn’t expect him to live.”
But Hawk, a blond-haired boy with a sly grin and peaceful demeanor, is strong.
“And so we knew that he would be different,” Katie said. “But we just prayed like, ‘God, if you’re going to leave him here, don’t leave him here to just have a pointless life. Don’t leave him here just to be nothing. Give him a hope that he can thrive and have growth and have a future and have a life.”
After enduring shunts to relieve pressure in his brain and taking pharmaceutical drugs, Hawk needed something more effective and less invasive, his mother believed.
“I knew that something had to change,” she said.
That prayer was answered when Katie took Hawk to California for a trial run of cannabis oil.
The drug is known to have anti-anxiety effects, among other beneficial properties, and strains used to treat seizure disorders like those Hawk experiences lack the levels of THC, a psychoactive ingredient, that gets marijuana smokers high.
“You can think of it like apples,” Katie said. “There’s a Granny Smith, there’s a golden delicious, there’s a McIntosh. They’re all apples, but they each have their own little bit of different flavor ... Cannabis (oil) is the same way.”
Small, regular doses of cannabis oil proved incredibly helpful in limiting the frequency and intensity of Hawk’s seizures.
For example, Hawk has a difficult time falling asleep and tends to seize during the transition between wake and rest.
“If you imagine if you’re ever trying to fall asleep and you kind of feel like you’re falling all of the sudden and you jerk back, for him that would be a seizure,” Katie said. “That’s that point where his brain is not quite asleep and not quite awake, and it’s confused. So he seizes a lot upon waking and upon falling asleep.”
Katie administers cannabis oil to Hawk in the morning and evening through oral liquid drops, rather than through a feeding tube, for instance, because it is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, producing a longer and more lasting effect.
“So this helps him just drift off asleep,” she said.
Hawk’s grandmother could immediately see the difference the drug made, when in California, his eyes began to light up.
Katie said Hawk also has an increased appetite and less nausea.
“There’s nothing negative that I can think of,” she added. “He’s laughed for the first time. We’ve seen his personality shine.”
Katie said Hawk is also now excited to move his little body, crawling around, sitting up in a sofa chair and holding his head high. His response to stimulation, such as tickling, is noticeable for the first time.
“All that is beyond what (doctors) would have expected, necessarily,” Katie said.
Hawk also now smiles frequently and acknowledges his mother’s presence, and he takes obvious pleasure when she rubs his belly or scratches his head.
“I’ve never had that, for 2½ years,” Katie said. “And he’s happy and he enjoys his life and we enjoy him. And he is just love in a human body. Everyone that holds him and touches him — he’s just a light. And he’s just the sweetest child, and he just is a blessing everyday.”
Katie said she switches between cannabis oil strains every few months to “trigger (Hawk’s) brain to have a new honeymoon period.”
“It’s just something in the brain chemistry,” she added, “that wakes up anew again.”
Katie receives dosage advice from the doctor in California who first recommended the drug for Hawk, and she also speaks frequently with other parents who treat their children with cannabis oil.
“As far as the future — we don’t know,” Katie said. “If this is all we get, then this is what we get and we’re happy. But we’ll keep pushing everyday. And (Hawk) keeps getting better everyday.”
The fight ahead
The drug has proven beneficial for many children. But it’s not just those suffering seizures that have been given relief.
The state legislature approved the possession of cannabis oil to treat eight medical conditions: seizure disorders, cancer, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle-cell disease.
And the state launched an online registry to certify patients for legal possession of cannabis oil.
The Georgia Department of Public Health’s “Low THC Oil Registry” is a secure database of patients authorized to possess cannabis oil.
Patients can obtain a card — similar to a license — that costs $25 and is valid for two years through the registry that allows them to possess 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil with low levels of THC.
While Katie has secured her own supply, access and availability to the drug remains an obstacle for many families in the state.
The health department and Georgia doctors will not be prescribing or dispensing cannabis oil, and the possession or sale of marijuana in plant or flower form remains illegal.
Lawmakers have not yet addressed cultivation and distribution of cannabis oil.
“There is still not a way to obtain cannabis oil in Georgia because there is not a supply,” Katie said. “It’s not ideal, for sure. Just because we live here doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have medicine. And just because it isn’t FDA approved doesn’t mean it’s not working.”
How cannabis oil is manufactured, bought and sold in the state may be addressed later this year by the Commission on Medical Cannabis, a group of physicians, attorneys, state legislators and law enforcement representatives who will help set Georgia’s policies on medical marijuana and will make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly.
Katie has fought alongside members of the Georgia’s Hope organization to get to this point.
“We just lobbied,” she said. “We went to the Capitol every chance we could get. Thousands of people can be helped by this medicine.”
She is proud Hawk has served as an inspiration to pass the law, and hopes he can continue to be a light for other children with seizure disorders.
“I just remember that feeling that day (the law passed), for sure, that maybe (Hawk’s) illness was making a bigger difference …”
Katie and other activists are not satisfied with their success, however.
In addition to addressing issues of access to cannabis oil, they hope to expand the list of illnesses that can be treated with the drug here in Georgia.
“That’s our fight next year,” Katie said.