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3-year-old is focus of medical marijuana battle

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COLORADO – He’s only 3 years old, but Landon Riddle is already the focus of a medical marijuana fight in Colorado.

Landon has acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It’s the most common cancer in children.

His mother says his condition has improved so much following treatment with medical marijuana that chemotherapy isn’t needed. But the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, she says, disagreed.

It all started back in September 2012. Landon, then 2, was living with his mother, Sierra Riddle, in St. George, Utah, when he developed a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. The emergency room doctor said it was a virus and sent him home.

Two days later he went back. His armpits were swollen.

“They thought it was either a virus or infection in the lymph nodes, so they gave him some antibiotics,” Sierra Riddle says.

But on the fifth day, his mother says she was changing his diaper and noticed his groin was also swollen, as well as his abdomen and throat. He was having trouble breathing.

That time, she got a frightening diagnosis: cancer.

Landon was flown to a children’s hospital in Salt Lake City.

“His whole chest was full of leukemia tumors, which is why he couldn’t breathe,” his mother says. “They started him on chemo, but told us that he probably wasn’t going to make it.”

Landon’s cancer had quickly progressed, leading doctors to give him an 8% chance of survival, she says.

In general, ALL is one of the most curable cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 90% of children diagnosed with the disease survive.

Chemotherapy is the standard treatment, and Riddle says doctors put Landon on a four-year treatment plan. The first two months of chemo went fairly well, but then Landon became extremely ill.

“Most days he couldn’t get off the couch,” Riddle remembers. “He would just lay there and throw up and throw up.”

Riddle says he also developed neuropathy — a symptom of nerve damage that can cause weakness, numbness and pain — in his legs that left him barely able to walk.

Around that time, a friend set up a Facebook page called Offer Hope for Landon, and recommendations started streaming in, including several endorsing cannabis — medical marijuana — as a treatment.

Medical marijuana, however, isn’t legal in Utah. Still, desperate for answers, Sierra Riddle and her mother, Wendy Riddle, started looking into it.

They considered going to California or Oregon. Then their research led them to the Stanley brothers in Colorado. The six brothers are one of that state’s biggest cannabis growers and dispensary owners.

The Stanleys produce about 500 pounds of medical marijuana a year. At the time, much of it was high in THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in pot that gets users highbut also helps patients with an array of conditions including pain and nausea.

But the Stanleys were also growing something quite revolutionary: a plant cross-bred to reduce the THC and increase another compound found in cannabis called cannabidiol, or CBD. Many researchers believe CBD is one of the compounds in marijuana that has medicinal benefits. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s thought to have significant analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor activity without the psychoactive effect.

The Stanleys expect to produce over 1,000 pounds this year, most of it the cross-bred variety, according to Joel Stanley.

Riddle, herself a recovering heroin addict, struggled with the idea of giving Landon marijuana.

“I was telling my mom, you know, ‘We really need to think about this.'”

But, says Riddle, her son was already prescribed medications like OxyContin and morphine — medications with significant side effects.

Landon suffered from stomach failure, and “the OxyContin made him so miserable, when he had hair, he would literally try to pull his hair out.”

In the end, she decided she had nothing else to lose and moved to Colorado. She rented a room, got Landon’s medical marijuana card and began giving him marijuana — THC for the pain and nausea, but also CBD. The dose was based on Landon’s weight. He first took it in oil form, but now takes a pill.

Once the doses started, “Landon’s (red and white blood cell) counts increased dramatically,” she says.

Six months later, encouraged by Landon’s progress, she stopped his chemotherapy treatments completely.

“Once I took the chemo out, I see these amazing results. And no more need for blood transfusion and platelet transfusions,” Riddle says. “I think that the chemo in combination with the cannabis did put him into remission and now the cannabis will keep him there.”

But Landon’s doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado was shocked.

“She told me with no uncertainty that if I refused chemo, she would have no choice but to report me to the proper authorities,” Riddle says.

So Riddle found a lawyer willing to take her case.

“Nobody wants to hurt Landon here,” says attorney Warren Edson. “This is about making him better. We have no problem making sure he’s monitored throughout this process. And again, if there’s any indication this is doing him harm, I can’t imagine Sierra doing anything other than the right thing.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado, in a statement, says it is “committed to protecting the well-being of our patients.” The hospital says it cannot discuss specific cases, but provided information from Dr. Stephen Hunger, director of the hospital’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Hunger noted that childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease among American children; that about 25% of childhood cancers are ALL; and that the survival rate for children with ALL treated by Children’s Oncology Group research trials is over 90%, attained with two to three years of chemotherapy.

Children’s Hospital Colorado is “one of the largest centers in the country that treats children with ALL,” the statement says.

“The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital Colorado has always done its best to work closely with families to provide the most appropriate treatment for cancer, while also seeking to minimize side effects and maximize quality of life.

“Today, chemotherapy is a required part of therapy for children with leukemia. Many supportive care medications are used in children and adults with cancer, including those considered to be complementary and alternative medicine (also referred to as integrative health).

“Marijuana or a product derived from marijuana is often used to decrease side effects in adults with cancer,” the hospital says. “There are several FDA-approved and commercially available anti-nausea medicines derived from marijuana (cannabinoids) that are frequently used by adults and children with cancer, and we often prescribe these medications.”

In an effort to stave off a legal wrangle, Riddle, her mother and Edson met with the doctors in charge of Landon’s care in October.

“They said they were willing to work with us. They said they were willing to alter the chemo plan, and they did not,” Riddle says.

Child protective services — which Riddle says had already been notified and visited the family’s home — was also at the meeting, along with Dr. Margaret Gedde, who wrote Landon’s original prescription for marijuana and is monitoring his care.

“I could see a large gulf between the doctors who were making the point this is a fatal disease — ‘You know, he needs this treatment to survive,’ and pretty much that was their stance,” says Gedde.

“The family wanted to discuss more alternative modes of treatment and really things that wouldn’t make him so sick, but again, the doctors being convinced that really it had to be done the way that they were used to it (being done) — that just made it very much really a confrontation there of two different mindsets. I felt sympathetic to both.”

Child protection officials declined comment on the case.

The American Cancer Society, meanwhile, cautions that cannabinoids have not been tested in humans to determine if they can lower cancer risk.

“There are many challenges with marijuana research as it relates to cancer,” the organization says in a statement. “While it shows promise for controlling cancer pain among some patients, there is still concern that marijuana may cause toxic side effects in some people and that the benefits of THC must be carefully weighed against its potential risks. There is no available scientific evidence from controlled studies in humans that cannabinoids can cure or treat cancer.”

For now, Landon is still in remission with no sign of recurrence. Still, Gedde is cautious and says she can’t recommend cannabis over chemo.

“When you look at children who go through that same course of treatment and compare Landon to them, it seems like he’s doing better than what would be expected,” she says.

“I’m very hopeful and very encouraged that the CBD is probably having a beneficial effect for him, but I think we’re still looking to have the disease course play out and find out. I think in cancer, you don’t really know until later.”

Meanwhile, Edson says child protection officials have not yet filed a case.

“We will continue to monitor Landon’s health, make sure he’s getting the proper blood tests and other checks to see what’s going on with him healthwise,” he says.

In December, Sierra Riddle notified Landon’s doctors that she plans to transfer his care. She’s searching for a physician willing to work with her to reduce the amount of steroids and chemotherapy he takes.

Wendy Riddle says they have no regrets and will continue to fight.

“It’s not just fighting for Landon. It’s not just about him, it’s about all of the kids to come,” she says. “When Landon is 15 years oldand we talk about this, I want Landon to know that we did everything in our power to be compassionate in his care and to protect him.”

By Saundra Young

 

The-CNN-Wire
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6 comments

  • PAUL SMITH

    Why should a state have control of the retail medical marijuana market , drug companies deal with pain killing prescription drugs all the time , some at no charge…

    Why would medial marijuana cost more than a prescription pain killer , marijuana can be grown anywhere by anyone , just like tobacco..

    The low cost of bring cigarettes to market , other than taxes, keeps people from growing their own tobacco , or cigarettes being sold on the street….

    Will this be the case for a state controlling the price of medical marijuana? I don’t think so..

  • PAUL SMITH

    What is the reason for states to charge for medical marijuana, is this to establish a price point for a legal price for marijuana?

    Medical Marijuana that is used in clinical trials , with the F.D.A approval , is free to participants.

  • PAUL SMITH

    A tobacco company making marijuana cigarettes would be happy to give away marijuana cigarettes to gain a share of the marijuana drug market and other medical hemp products..l..

    It shouldn’t be problem for the tobacco companies to make a medical approved marijuana cigarette , since it’s been said , cigarettes contains over 500 blended chemicals, which was approved by the F.D.A.

  • PAUL SMITH

    Why is a state/ and the United States government using medical marijuana to change the opinion of marijuana?

    “Medical Marijuana, Inc. Subsidiary Signs Exclusive Marketing Agreement for European Cosmetic and Nutraceutical Company.” 1.
    (Nutraceutical : Noun: a food containing health-giving additives and having medicinal benefit.)
    Tobacco companies would fall under this category.
    Why give any company exclusive rights..Where’s the cost advantages of competition.

    The reason I listed U.S.government is because only Congress and the President can authorize trade agreements between the states and with foreign countries..

  • PAUL SMITH

    legalizing marijuana will not effect illegal drug use , or the amount of money spend on fighting illegal drugs.

    And speaking of legalizing an illegal drug;will the Coco plant be the next legalized recreational drug , since it also contain medical properties and has been used as such for 8,000 years..

    There are South America nations wanting to legalizing the use of coco leaf similar to the use of aspirin.

    So try again.

    There’s only one thing to remember, if you are riding on a bandwagon as a sidekick to a ventriloquist and that Bandwagon is being pulled by a team of myopic mules , try not to forget who is the dummy..

  • PAUL SMITH

    If marijuana is to be legalize and if marijuana is sooo-oo good for a person health ,

    why not let the tobacco companies market a marijuana cigarette?

    A tobacco company making marijuana cigarettes would be happy to give away marijuana cigarettes to gain a share of the marijuana market and other hemp products..

    Marketed right , alcohol could drop by 50 percent and cigarette smoking by another ’25 percent.

    They have the marketing expertise, the equipment and world wide distribution channels already in place..

    Think about all the taxes and jobs that would be required to fill that enormous appetite.

    The cigarette companies would turn a huge profit on marijuana cigarettes , before the sun sets on the first day..

    And the tobacco/marijuana companies would sell marijuana with out a sales tax.

    People are not stupid , they are just uninformed.

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