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Misunderstood Medicine: 'I feel like a normal boy'

EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) - A week after his eighth birthday, Forrest Smelser was diagnosed with epilepsy.

On bad days he would seize every 15 minutes.

"If he has a seizure that lasts longer than three minutes, we're venturing into brain damage territory," his mother Tanesha said.

After numerous trips to the emergency room and the doctor's office, Forrest was prescribed the anti-seizure drug Trileptal.

Tanesha said that's when things went from bad to worse.

"He would scream, he would fight, he would punch himself," said Tanesha.

She said the family reached a breaking point when Forrest became suicidal, something she believes was a side effect of the pharmaceuticals.

That's when she decided to explore more unconventional methods to treat Forrest's seizures.

"Oil infused with CBD, medical marijuana," she said as she held a jar of medical cannabis pills from TJ's Organic Gardens, a Eugene-based medical marijuana farm with indoor operations in Oregon and Washington.

"I have my son again. He's not this fog of a child. He's not this angry child. He's my child exactly," said Tanesha.

"Now that I'm on this medication, I feel like a normal boy," said Forrest.

Forrest is not alone. According to the Oregon Health Authority, 195 of the 69,004 participants in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program are under the age of 18. 

Because of privacy concerns, a spokespoeson was not able to provide a further breakdown of the age group, but patients as young as 4 years old have been reported.

Tanesha said she sold their home and moved in with family in a small town outside Eugene to save money for the cost she expected to pay to have Forrest on medical cannabis, which is not covered by insurance. 

Each one of the pills he takes three times a day would cost about $5 at a local medical marijuana dispensary.

That's when one of the owners of TJ's Organic Gardens stepped up, offering to donate Forrest's medication.

"To be part of the fix is pretty special," said Jim Murphy. "It's a payment within itself."

And Murphy said his company has enough medicine for about 500 more child patients - and they're looking to supply them at no charge.

"It would be wrong of us not to do so," said Murphy, who said his partners have started a separate company Kind Care to dispense the medical marijuana.

TJ's Organic Gardens does not charge their direct patients but makes money from selling surplus medical marijuana to licensed dispensaries like Cannadaddys and Oregon's Finest.

Oregon law requires that medical marijuana sold in licensed dispensaries be tested for molds and pesticides and labeled for potency. 

An Oregon Health Authority spokeswoman said the law is silent on marijuana grown for private use by patients.

Murphy said the plant grown for seizure patients like Forrest is special. He said unlike most medical marijuana plants grown with a high THC level in mind, Forrest's plant has less than 1 percent of the active cannabinoid known for its psychoactive properties.

"So, we're not getting children high. We're just giving them medicine, and that's what makes this plant special. It's literally the opposite of what makes all these other plants special," he said.

"A high THC, this one does not," he said pointing to the plant used to make Forrest's medication. "It has a very low THC, and very high CBD."

Murphy said this plant has been given the name CBD, an acronym for another active cannabinoid in marijuana known as cannabidiol. CBD is the chemical believed to be treating seizure patients like Forrest.

From plant to pill form takes about a week and a half, according to a TJ's Organic Gardens volunteer. 

He said they use an organic ethyl alcohol extraction process to make a cannabis oil from the medical marijuana plant matter. The oil is then heated up and mixed with another edible oil to and put into a pill capsule.


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