MASON CITY | The approval Thursday by the Iowa Senate of a bill legalizing the use of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana for limited medical purposes, came as welcome news to Cassie Helland of Mason City.
The House of Representatives was debating a similar bill on Friday.
Cassie and Justin Helland are parents of a son Caleb, 9, who has epilepsy and experiences grand mal seizures.
"We've tried all the medications that are out there," Cassie Helland said. "The side effects of the medications he takes are far worse than cannabis oil."
Among the side effects are liver and kidney damage, she said. The medications -- Caleb currently takes three -- also make him drowsy and affect his occupational and physical therapy sessions.
"He'll gain skills and then he'll lose them," Helland, 31, said of her son, who uses a wheelchair. "It's kind of been a roller coaster."
Caleb has been having epileptic seizures since he was 3 months old and has taken 11 different seizure medications over the years, his mother said. During grand mal seizures Caleb stops breathing.
Lately his seizures have been more intense, necessitating the administration of an emergency medication to make them stop, she said.
"It makes him really tired," Helland said.
She has researched cannabidiol (CBD) and talked to mothers who have used it successfully with their children who have epileptic seizures. In some cases, the CBD put an end to the seizures altogether, Helland said.
Caleb's Iowa City neurologist has told the Hellands that she would prescribe CBD if it were legal, Helland said.
Although unable to attend the Des Moines Statehouse hearings, Helland has emailed and written to Iowa legislators Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, stating her position on medical marijuana.
"It would change my son's life for the better," she said. "There would be no side effects compared to the stuff he has to take now."
"It's frustrating when there's something that's working and other states are allowing it but we don't," she said. "He's not going to get high on it. People need to be more informed about it."