ONLY ON KOLD: Cannabis for kids - Tucson News Now

ONLY ON KOLD: Cannabis for kids

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Minors on medical marijuana: It sounds shocking when you think about it, but the reality is far from the picture of children rolling up or smoking joints. These are children with serious health issues.

Seventy children are listed as medical marijuana cardholders in the state of Arizona and ten of them reside in Pima County.  After a closer look at the numbers, you might be surprised to hear the oldest medical marijuana patient in the state is 97 and the youngest is one.  Many of them are children who suffer hundreds of seizures a week.

We met one of the families at their home in Maricopa County.  At the age of 5, Reese Holyoak was still learning how to walk, but her father called it great progress.

"Six months ago she wasn't even walking at all," said JP Holyoak, a financial advisor turned medical marijuana dispensary owner, also the owner of one of the largest medical marijuana cultivation farms in the state.

Reese still had to lean on her father for support as she wobbled across the lawn.  Holyoak said his special needs child was the primary reason he got into the industry.

His daughter suffered from a rare genetic disorder called Aicardi Syndrome.  About 500 children in the United States had the same disorder.

"It is neurological.  Some aspects of her brain are not formed correctly," explained Holyoak.

Reese had her first seizure at the age of three months.  After that, a parent's nightmare, dealing with more than 200 seizures a week.  They went through the pharmaceutical merry-go-round.

"None of them worked well, all of them had horrible side effects.  Some of them made her lethargic and catatonic," said Holyoak.

They they started reading reports about children using medical marijuana in Colorado.  After researching the drug, Reese became one of the state's younger cardholders.  Her father infused an extract with olive oil, had it tested in a lab, and administered the drug to her orally.

"It was almost immediate.  Her seizures dropped drastically. Mental focus improved," said Holyoak.  We literally see new changes and developments in her every single day," said Holyoak.

They are not alone.  Hundreds of families are turning to medical marijuana dispensaries for help.  At Earth's Healing off Benson Highway in Tucson, two minors are already registered as patients.  The owner, Vicki Puchi-Saavedra said they were starting to see "medical refugees" moving into Arizona, just so they could legally get the drug.

"The patient we have is from Mexico.  Actually they have a residence in Tucson, so yes they came from Mexico to get legal help for their child," said Puchi- Saavedra.

So what exactly are they giving these children?  Holyoak said it was a highly concentrated form of marijuana mixed into oils, drops, or molded into balms.  Most of the medicine administered to children had no THC, the ingredient that gets you "stoned" or "high".

Instead it was high in CBD, an ingredient with medical benefits.

"She's never high.  The medical cannabis we're using wouldn't get a hippy high on his best day," said Holyoak.

Reese, the 5-year old who functions at a 12-month old level is now more than focused, according to her father.  Holyoak said, while celebrating their victories though, they are still fighting the stigma. 

Amy Bass, Director of Prevention at Pasadera said, while she was not against medical marijuana use for the right reasons, there was still reason for caution.

"How do we know it's being used for the child for medicinal purposes?"

She questioned if there was any regulation of caregivers.  To qualify your child, a parent or caregiver has to fill out the state forms, pay the fees, and as long as they had no violent criminal history, they would qualify.  Yes, the state had strict rules, but Bass questioned, who's watching?

"You can't divert medical marijuana [and] can't give it to anyone that doesn't have a card," said Tom Salow, branch chief of licensing with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Bass feels there needs to be more medical marijuana regulation, and everyone we spoke to agrees there also needs to be more research so more parents can learn about the drug.

Today, another moment of firsts for little Reese when she noticed our camera and actually started crawling to us on her own. Her father says the little girl that would just lay in her crib is finally doing what five year olds do: Exploring the world around her.

"We don't know what the future holds for Reese. I can tell you what the statistics are. They're grim. The average life span is 8 years. She's five now."

"We've had a lot of tears but frankly most of our tears these days are tears of joy."

For a child to get qualify, two doctors have to sign off on a prescription and a parent or caregiver has to apply for the medical marijuana card.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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