Rep. Wendell Gilliard said he wants to help fast-track a proposed state law that would give patients with epilepsy access to a type of medical marijuana called Epidolex through clinical trials at the Medical University of South Carolina.
"I would definitely be for it," Gilliard said, D-Charleston. "I think we are headed in the right direction."
Gilliard met Monday with health care professionals at MUSC to discuss the legislation, which was introduced in the Legislature last week by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. It has been referred to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee for discussion.
At the meeting, MUSC neurologist Jonathan Edwards told Gilliard that the efficacy of Epidolex still is unknown.
"We don't know for sure if this will make a difference," Edwards said, "but we want the possibility to explore it."
Epidolex, which is manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, uses a marijuana extract called Cannabidiol oil. It does not induce the type of psychotic effects of regular marijuana because it doesn't include high levels of the chemical THC.
Marijuana typically bought and sold illegally has very high levels of THC, which induces the "high" associated with the drug.
Experts believe Epidolex may help relieve some of the symptoms associated with epilepsy, particularly seizures, but it is too soon to tell. Small clinical trials are underway at New York University and the University of California-San Francisco.
"We shouldn't restrict it just to clinical trials," Edwards said. "We should also use it in cases where we are running out of options. ... We need to have options to offer those patients."
One of those patients could be 6-year-old Mary Louise Swing of West Ashley, who suffers from epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Mary Louise can't speak, and her mobility is limited, said her mother, Jill Swing.
If Mary Louise is not on medication, she can have about 150 seizures per hour. Even with medication, she can have as many as 100 seizures in an hour. They come quickly and sometimes involve falling.
Swing considered moving to Colorado for her daughter. Davis heard the story and said he doesn't want the Swings to have to leave the state to get treatment, and he introduced the bill Wednesday.
While the use of medical marijuana is fraught with controversy, MUSC health care providers stressed in the meeting with Gilliard that this drug is unlike marijuana available on the street, and is probably safer than many of the prescription drugs that doctors already are allowed to administer to patients.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about this issue," said MUSC lobbyist Mark Sweatman, who attended the meeting Monday at the hospital. "There's nothing wrong with having a discussion about it and to introduce a bill that generates discussion."
Sweatman said MUSC leaders have not officially taken a position on the bill.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.