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Stanley brothers expanding production of cannabis-based oil to help reduce seizures

December 4, 2014 Updated: December 4, 2014 at 10:16 am
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Families from Georgia gather for a group shot during a get together. The familes have moved to Colorado Springs to be able to legally use medical marijuana oil to treat their children for a variety of chronic illnesses. They were having the barbeque on Monday, June 28, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The five-brother operation producing a cannabis-based oil used to treat children with severe epilepsy plans to massively expand by summer 2015, possibly allowing it to eliminate a 12,000-person, worldwide wait list for the therapeutic oil.

Amid a newly formed hemp industry in Colorado and their massive new facility in marijuana-friendly Uruguay, Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises in Teller County appears poised for its greatest expansion since gaining widespread acclaim in 2013 for helping to treat children.

Recently, 250 people were told they would soon start getting the oil, called Charlotte's Web after a Black Forest girl who suffered debilitating seizures before she began using the oil. By the end of January, the brothers plan to supply the oil to about 3,500 people in Colorado and California - a sevenfold increase that would eliminate current wait lists in each state, said Jesse Stanley, one of the brothers.

The new recipients include Tripp Oliver, 6, whose mother moved with him in April from Georgia to Colorado seeking the oil to help with grand mal seizures that hit him once or twice a week. He has been on the list about a year - a wait that ended Tuesday night with an email.

In short: Tripp's oil will be available for pickup in late December, said his mother, Laura Oliver.

"We have been waiting for this for so long," Oliver said.

The brothers pioneered a technique to develop cannabis plants with low-psychoactive properties that were rich in cannabidoil, or CBD, a substance believed to provide relief for medical conditions such as epilepsy. It has been used by 500 people in Colorado and California.

Marijuana and hemp are variations of cannabis plants. The difference is in the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the substance that gives marijuana users a high. Hemp has no more than 0.3 percent THC.

Colorado voters in 2012 allowed the creation of a hemp industry when they approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use and sales.

The brothers were among a handful of businesses or individuals in El Paso and Teller counties to submit applications to the Colorado Department of Agriculture this year seeking to grow hemp for commercial or research and development purposes.

That licensure process allowed the Stanley brothers' business to grow from a warehouse operation to a 40-acre cannabis field this year.

They planted 17 acres of that land in northeastern Colorado, which will allow them to provide oil for an additional 3,000 people, Stanley said.

Far more is planned for 2015.

The Colorado operation is slated to add up to 200 acres in the spring, Stanley said.

The brothers also plan to plant in January a 50- to 
60-acre crop in Uruguay that they expect to harvest in April. It could allow them to provide oil for about 9,000 people outside of Colorado and California who remain on their waiting list.

With an increasing supply of oil, the oil could be used to treat conditions beyond epilepsy, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, Stanley said.

Due to shipping regulations, the Uruguay facility could prove critical for treating children or others living outside of Colorado, Stanley said.

Hemp produced in Colorado cannot be shipped out of the state, said Duane Sinning, assistant director of plant industry with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

In contrast, hemp products often are imported from other countries, such as hemp seeds, soaps and even granola bars.

The business also is working to comply with provisions of the most recent federal Farm Bill, passed this year, which allows hemp-growing programs for research.

Recipients of Charlotte's Web are signing up for university-based research projects that include examining how well the oils work, said Heather Jackson, executive director of the Realm of Caring, a nonprofit closely affiliated to the Stanleys aimed at helping people access Charlotte's Web.

"I feel it's a very necessary step to get a better understanding of which disease states this is working for," Stanley said.

Laura Oliver said she signed up for the studies immediately after getting the email Wednesday night. The goal: find a treatment that works among the myriad she has already tried.

Doctors have implanted a nerve stimulator inside Tripp that helped address seizures that hit every two to 10 seconds.

And a special diet helped reduce the length of his seizures to less than 15 minutes. It proved a blessing, she said, considering seizures once lasted an average of 20 to 
60 minutes, while some went three hours.

But he also takes a cocktail of medications, many with side effects that make him drowsy and disoriented, as well as more easily frustrated and aggressive, she said.

"You have to know that this is what we've done his entire life," Oliver said. "We have tried drug after drug after drug and none of them have worked, none of them have stopped his seizures."

As a stopgap measure until receiving Charlotte's Web, Tripp began taking THCA - essentially, the active ingredient in marijuana before it is heated, and thus, before it becomes psychoactive.

That helped further reduce seizures from once or twice a week to a few times a month, while also reducing the duration.

With those improvements, Oliver began weaning him off some medications, and his cognitive ability began to improve, she said. But his condition worsened when she recently dropped one medication, illustrating the limits of THCA.

In many ways, late December can't come soon enough.

"We're not under any false hope that he's going to be cured," Oliver said. "If that happens - even more amazing.

"But if it can give him any more relief than what he has today, then it's a success."

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