Jackson Leyden had always been a healthy kid; he practiced taekwondo, and he played lacrosse and baseball. But in 2011, a few months after his eighth birthday, he began having seizures several times a day. Many were brief, a half-minute of staring into space, but he also had severe episodes in which he would collapse, sometimes injuring himself. Over the next two years, he was hospitalized about 50 times, and he missed much of fourth and fifth grade.
His parents took him to more than 20 doctors around the country, and he tried more than a dozen medications. Nothing worked. Two years ago, the Leydens were at the end of their rope. They decided to see whether marijuana might help. (Medical use of the drug is legal in the District, where they live, and the Leydens found a doctor willing to work with them.) In 2014, Jackson got his first dose of cannabis.
“Within a few days, he was having hardly any seizures,” says his mother, Lisa. “I was shocked.” Over the next few months, he stopped taking other medications.
Not only did the medicine help, it did so without making him high. The strain of marijuana that Jackson takes is unusual: It contains high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the two main molecules in marijuana; the other is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. While THC is famously mind-altering, CBD is not.
Over decades, researchers have found that THC may help treat pain, nausea, loss of appetite and other problems, while CBD was thought to be biologically inactive in humans. But in the past 10 years, scientists have concluded that CBD may be quite useful. Dozens of studies have found evidence that the compound can treat epilepsy as well as a range of other illnesses, including anxiety, schizophrenia, heart disease and cancer.
Now 13, Jackson — whose diagnosis is undetermined — continues to use marijuana every day. (Like many patients, he ingests it in droplet form, which allows for more precise dosing and avoids lung problems.) He still has seizures, but they are less severe and they occur once every week or two, down from around 200 a month before he started using cannabis. He is back in school full time and is well enough to go on hikes and bike rides with his famil