An Australian family who travelled to Canada in order to legally access cannabis oil treatment could soon be forced to return home, where the life-changing medication is outlawed. Tabetha and Georgia-Grace Fulton, 13 and 8, both suffer from a degenerative lung disease so rare that it doesn’t have a name. Their mother, Bobby-Jo, brought the girls to Victoria, B.C., so they could access the cannabis oil treatment after a successful – and illegal – 12-week trial in Australia.
The health benefits from taking cannabis oil were astounding, the girls say. They went from taking heavy doses of steroids and being unable to stay awake for more than 45 minutes, to being able to walk around all day without oxygen tanks.
Her sister agreed: “I’m more energized. It’s just amazing,” Georgia-Grace said. Each day, the girls take two millilitres of cannabis oil which doesn’t contain the psychoactive component THC, the chemical that could make the children feel “high.”
But their days on the drug could be numbered. Their six-month stay in Canada is nearing an end, leaving the Fultons with a difficult choice: stay in Canada to continue treatment, or return home and go back on steroids. But the family is hoping to carve out a third option – to return to Australia with legal exemption from pot laws, allowing the sisters to continue treatment in the comfort of their home.
To build a case for the Australian government, the Fultons are working alongside National Access Cannabis (NAC), an alternative treatment centre in Victoria, B.C., that advocates for cannabis-based medication. They have the girls working with a pediatric lung specialist, a pharmacist, and Health Canada to collect information for their pitch. “We’re continuing to monitor the progress of the children,” said Alex Abellan, founder of the NAC. “We’re sharing all the information we have with our physician and pharmacist to the government. We’re also lobbying the health minister’s office and the prime minister’s office in Australia.”
Since the girls began treatment, their day-to-day lives changed drastically, Abellan insists.
“I couldn’t take them out to a restaurant, we were walking around with tanks, and they had to be back within 45 minutes to an hour,” he said of their experience before the treatment. “It’s ridiculous the life that these children were living.” Now, Abellan says, Georgia-Grace has enough strength to pummel a punching bag. “I wish you could see a before and after, it’s amazing,” he said.
They recognize that their chances are slim, but the girls’ first hope is to be back at home with their friends. “It’s where I was born, raised, and it’s, well, my home. I would love to be able to be healthy and be home,” Tabetha said. If their pitch is rejected, there’s no plan in motion to stay in Canada, their mother says, and they haven’t applied to extend their visit.
“Just got to keep our fingers crossed that they’ll let us do it,” Bobby-Jo Fulton said. “Otherwise they’re back on the steroids.” In the meantime, Abellan insists that Canada should conduct more studies into cannabis as treatment to help children like the Fulton girls.
“We need to do more research, get some clinical trials … [get] physicians more educated on cannabis, and spread the word so that other children with lung disease can be helped.”