- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - To cut down the number of debilitating seizures she experiences every day, Ashley Rice has become one of about 100 people participating in an extremely limited medical marijuana program in Utah that allows people with severe epilepsy to travel to other states to obtain cannabis extract oil and use it back home.

Since the 24-year-old Rice started using the oil under the 2014 law, she had had anywhere from three to eight seizures a day, according to her father Doug Rice. At the peak, the West Jordan woman was experiencing up to two dozen seizures a day.

Ashley Rice has epilepsy and Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects her immune system. The disability means that developmentally, she functions on a level close to a 3-year-old child.

Her father said the cannabidiol she buys in nearby Colorado works much better than a prescription drug similar to Valium that used to leave her “like a zombie.”

“She’s back to being the same kid,” Doug Rice said. “She actually has a life and a great personality that you didn’t see because it was … so masked by the Valium stuff.”

The Rice family is among the 50 families who took steps under Utah’s law to renew their state card allowing them to have the oil, which has low levels of the chemical THC.

State officials this week said they’re not sure why just over half of the 110 people who got cards in the first year chose to renew them, but they hope to find out more once the University of Utah completes a study of people in the program in 2018. As of late October, 97 people had active cards in the state.

Rich Oborn with the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records and Statistics told lawmakers on Wednesday that anecdotally, a handful of patients and doctors have said they didn’t renew their cards because the oil had no effect on their disease or they experienced side effects.

A few patients had died and others were participating in a separate clinical drug trial and didn’t need a card.

For others, the oil was too expensive.

The Rice family told The Deseret News (https://bit.ly/2g3d0mL) that they drive to nearby Colorado to buy the oil, which is $275 for 100 milliliters.

Some patients may be using the oil without complying with the Utah law and getting a card, but Rice said his family wanted to follow the law so he didn’t risk losing his job as a firefighter/paramedic.

As officials wait to learn more about the effects of the oil, they’re considering a broader medical marijuana proposal that would allow people with more conditions such as cancer and PTSD to use marijuana with higher levels of THC to treat r conditions.

State lawmakers considered legislation earlier this year to expand the law, but the measures died amid worries about how regulations, cost and concern by the Mormon church.

Lawmakers plan to try again next year, with at least five medical marijuana bills in the works.

The Rice family is among those who support allowing higher THC products in Utah. While in Colorado, Ashley Rice has used some of those products and found they help her more than the oil allowed in Utah.

“As a parent who only wants the best for my kid,” Doug Rice said, “it’s frustrating to know there’s this treatment out there that is being withheld from us.”


Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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