If you were to pass Rebakah Dewey and her family on the street, you’d likely notice her bright-eyes and blonde hair. Or you might notice how active, social, and playful she is. What you wouldn’t know is that this baby girl is facing more than her fair share of challenges.
Diagnosed with infantile fibrosarcoma at just six months old, little Rebakah has already been through one round of chemotherapy. Yet the tumor, located in the fibrous tissue of her left leg, remains. Surgery might be able to remove it, but the mass is simply too close to the artery. Plus, removing it now could compromise her ability to walk and learn.
Instead, her parents are trying an experimental drug that is supposed to attack the proteins of the cancer. Also, they’re using medical cannabis to help her deal with the pain, nausea, and sleep issues associated with her condition. It was a decision that they made during her three-and-a-half months of chemotherapy after seeing the effects that the opioid, oxycodone, had on their daughter.
“At the time, we did not understand that, when oxy[codone] goes into a child, it turns into morphine in the blood,” Rebakah’s mother, Jackie Dewey, told Everything Medical Marijuana Magazine’s manager, Nick Shafer, in an interview.
“When she was on oxy, she was a different kid. When she’s on CBD, she’s got an appetite. She’ll sleep. She’s calm. When she’s on oxycodone, she’s just . . . whacked out. And then when she’s not on it, she wants it,” Rebakah’s father, Scott Dewey added.
Highly addictive, even for children, oxycodone is one of the most frequently prescribed opioids in the United States. It is also one of the most abused substances in America with a host of other, concerning side effects. For example, children who take the drug have an especially high risk for potentially fatal breathing problems. Should they become addicted, they also become at risk for fatal complications from the withdrawal.
“The big thing is, narcotics – if people would go to CBDs, syrups, stuff like that, they wouldn’t need narcotics. And they could stop whenever they want to,” Scott said. “You give a kid this pill, and then this pill to fix, and then this pill to counteract this pill, instead of just giving them CBD, which takes care of all of it, and there’s what side effects? You show me the side effects . . . weigh the options there.”
Medical cannabis has done more than just manage Rebakah’s pain though; it has helped her sleep at night. It has given her the ability to grow and gain weight, despite the chemotherapy. In short, marijuana has helped Rebakah thrive during her battle with cancer.
“When she was taking CBD, she wasn’t pale. She didn’t start, like, losing weight. And her hair – she only lost a little bit of her hair,” Jackie said. “They were amazed, even at Mary Bridge.”
Indeed, Rebakah appears to be so healthy, she challenges the presumptions about childhood cancer, and the use of medical cannabis in children.
“They expect them to be lethargic and not moving around, and she doesn’t stop,” Scott said.
As if needing to validate her father’s words, Rebakah began walking around during the interview. She smiled, pulling toys from her diaper bag, and tried to share them with the magazine crew. She tugged at her dress and even took an interest in the camera.
But now, the very medicine that Rebakah’s parents have used to keep their daughter healthy is becoming less accessible. It all started with the passing of Washington’s 502 law, which made marijuana legal for recreational use. The effect has been an influx of big business growers and distributors, many of which compromise the safety and quality of products. The THC levels of marijuana is the only thing that anyone seems to be interested in. And it is leaving patients like Rebakah behind.
Sure, medically registered patients could grow their own, but not all can reasonably do so. That is why it used to be grown by patients, for patients. It is why medical cannabis products, made by patients, used to be sold to other patients at farmer’s markets. But that is no longer allowed, so many patients are struggling to find the medication that they need. Some are even being forced to make compromises.
For example, Rebakah no longer has access to the high CBD, low THC products she was once using. The muscle rub, which her mother used to massage into her leg where the tumor is located, is no longer available. That is rather problematic, since studies have shown that cannabis can reduce the size of a tumor in animals – and most likely offers the same benefit to humans. So, instead, her parents are using what they can find. One can only hope it isn’t compromising her healing and treatment because, clearly, it has benefited her up to this point.
“In the last couple of months, we’ve found some tinctures that seem to help a little bit, but she is highly affected by THC,” Jackie said about the challenges they’ve faced in finding Rebakah’s medication. “I want it for the medicinal part of it. I want her to be able to have an appetite and sleep, have a low THC that helps with those problems.”
Recreational legislation isn’t the only thing standing in the way of medical cannabis though. Its Schedule I classification is also problematic. It takes away the ability to legally test and conduct studies on THC and CBD for patients like Rebakah. It makes dosing a challenge and deciding which products work best for what conditions a bit of a guessing game, which is why Jackie and Scott advocate for more research, and for legislation changes that could help countless others.
“I just really think they need to do more studies on CBDs. We need more studies with children especially, because of the side effects of pain killers and things like that are just way too risky,” Jackie said. “If you start doing the research, and it takes away the pain and doesn’t have the side effects of hurting your liver or kidneys and things like that, why wouldn’t you do that for children?”
Why is, indeed, the question.
There are many theories – everything from decades’ old stigmas to greed and corruption within the government. But advocates are still fighting for compassion, for legislation and research that could improve the lives of sick patients. As for our part, we are sharing stories like Rebakah’s – not just because it is inspiring and educational for those considering medical marijuana, but because this is just too important.
America’s opioid epidemic is rapidly growing. Contrary to popular belief, most addicts started out taking opioids prescribed by their doctors for issues like cancer, work related injuries, and other serious illnesses. Then they became addicted, through no real fault of their own. Medical marijuana could change that. It needs to change that. And not just for children like Rebakah, but for all sick or chronically ill patients who only want to enjoy a better quality of life.
For more great stories like this, check out our next issue. And, as always, Everything Medical Marijuana Magazine will keep you updated on the latest news, legislation, laws, and developments in the medical cannabis community.