In April, 15-year-old David Brill was taken from his parents, after an anonymous source told the authorities in Twiggs County, Georgia, that the Brills had given David marijuana. After several months of turmoil, the young man, who suffers from daily seizures, has been reunited with his parents, but their lives have been profoundly changed.
Suzeanna and Matthew Brill had allowed their son to smoke pot because nothing else was working; their son was suffering between seven and 10 seizures a day. They’d tried the anti-seizure meds, but according to the parents, those only “zombified” David; and the low-level THC oil, legalized in the state, was hard to come by. Finally, when they saw no other option, they decided to purchase a cannabis plant and permit their son a few tokes now and then. The results were mind-blowing: David started focusing on school, and he lived seizure-free for 71 days.
When teachers asked about David’s unprecedented progress, Suzeanna and Matthew simply said that they had introduced an herbal supplement into his diet, omitting the marijuana from their explanation. The Brills told David’s physician, who showed no signs of protest, and his therapist, who may not have been so accepting. At the end of April, someone tipped off the authorities, and David was taken into custody by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Suzeanna and Matthew, who were tired of seeing their “kid half-dead all the time,” were arrested and spent nearly a week in jail. They could face up to a year in prison in addition to a $1,000 fine.
No Cannabis, More Seizures
When the authorities first approached the family, David was forced to stop smoking marijuana. Speaking with People Magazine, Catherine Bernard, the Brills’ attorney, explained the aftermath: “Within 14 hours, David had the worst seizure of his life and had to be taken to the hospital.” She continued, “At the medical center, police and DCFS seized custody of David and his service dog, Malory, who was taken to the pound. Warrants for reckless conduct were taken out on Matthew and Suzeanna and both were arrested later that day.”
While staying in a group home, without his usual dose of marijuana, David began once again to suffer regular seizures. Without his service dog – who was trained to sense the seizures before they occurred and who was also taken into custody – the siezures came without warning.
Walter Jones, the director of communications for DFCS, had this to say: “The division’s case managers weigh several factors — including the caregivers’ demonstrated capacity to safely care for the child and the likelihood that any risks will reoccur — prior to petitioning the court to remove a child from his caretakers.”
Indeed, the event brings up relevant questions about the medicinal use of marijuana and the destructive effects of laws derived from the war on drugs. In Georgie, anyone caught with an ounce (or more) of weed can face up to 10 years in prison. And in the case of the Brills, medicinal use of the drug nearly caused a family to be torn apart.
As noted by the New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration recently recommended approval of an anti-seizure drug that contains cannabidiol, which can be found in cannabis. Scientists like Dr. Igor Grant, of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego, have not rejected out-of-hand the possibility of marijuana’s efficacy. Grant told the Times that, though David’s story is just a single anecdote and not scientific proof, “I think that there are probably epilepsies that would benefit from an alternative treatment if they’re not controlled by our usual treatments.” He was careful to add that he’s not advocating for a mad rush to marijuana.
The Brills have certainly become believers. Matthew Brill described the effects of the drug: “He became a ‘normal’ kid,” he said, continuing, “His speech and motor coordination improved, he completed homework and chores, he was able to focus, and most importantly, he didn’t have any seizure episodes for 71 days while being treated with cannabis.” He added, “We were thrilled to have him healthy and happy.”
Now, thanks to a brief filed by the ACLU, Judge Sam Hillburn has granted the family a 12-month “protective order,” which requires the Brills to check in with the court twice a month. The order could even lead to the dismissal of the criminal charges. Young David will now take Epidiolex, the FDA-approved drug containing cannabidiol.