Mykayla Comstock is one of 2,201 cancer patients authorized by the state of Oregon to use medical marijuana. Unlike most of those people, Mykayla is a child. The marijuana that 7-year-old Mykayla takes in capsule form, with the help of her mom, eases the effects of the chemotherapy that combats her aggressive leukemia. While the little girl admits the drug makes her "feel funny," it also helps her sleep through the night and stomach meals. But critics, including the girl's father, who lives in North Dakota, are quick to point out that the grade-schooler is still developing and that the possible negative effects of the drug on such a young person are unknown. Could the marijuana be doing more harm than good? Here, a closer look at Mykayla's story:
Is it really legal for a kid to use marijuana?
In Oregon, yes. And Mykayla is not the only child using the medical-grade drug. There are 52 children in the state who meet the requirements for assistance under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, which requires that the child have a qualifying medical condition, parental consent, and a doctor's approval. And, thanks to a law passed in 1998, underage drug use doesn't need to be monitored by a doctor, either. Parents have the full authority to decide how much, how often, and in what manner their child consumes marijuana.
How does Mykayla take the marijuana?
Mykayla's mom, Erin Purchase, and her boyfriend, Brandon Krenzler, give her the drug using a capsule filled with cannabis oil. Using a syringe, Krenzler fills a capsule with a half-gram of the "dark sludgy substance," and Mykayla tries to force down the bad-smelling and nasty-tasting pill twice a day. On the occasions when she is feeling particularly ill, Mykayla's mom and boyfriend will cook up a batch of banana bread or cookies with "budder" — butter slow cooked with marijuana buds — for a higher dosage. On those bad days, Mykayla has been known to consume up to 1.2 grams of cannabis oil in 24 hours, which is roughly the equivalent of smoking 10 joints.
Does it help?
According to Mykayla's mom, yes. A month after Mykayla's diagnosis and just a few weeks after starting her marijuana regimen, the girl went into remission. Although doctors expected that positive development, Purchase credits the marijuana. "She wasn't responding as well until she got the cannabis," said Purchase, whose faith in the drug's healing powers extends beyond her daughter's experience. The 25-year-old mother says the drug cured her stepfather's skin cancer and may have helped push another friend, who had lung cancer, into remission. Purchase has had some experience with medical marijuana, herself, having been prescribed the drug in 2010 to treat vomiting from a metabolic problem resulting from her second pregnancy.
But is marijuana ultimately harmful for Mykayla?
It's hard to say, but Mykayla's father, Jesse Comstock, worries that his daughter's drug use will hinder her brain development. Comstock, who is divorced from Mykayla's mom and lives in North Dakota, visited Mykayla in August and was so shocked by her behavior — he said she was "stoned out of her mind" — that he contacted local child welfare officials, police, and her oncologist. After police checked Mykayla's medical marijuana paperwork, however, they told Comstock there was nothing they could do. But he's not the only one questioning his daughter's treatment. The medical director of the children's cancer program at Mykayla's hospital calls her medical marijuana use "inappropriate." And the American Academy of Pediatrics is circulating a resolution opposing marijuana use in children, mainly because previous studies of its medical effects have focused only on adults. Still, as Maria Guido at Mommyish says, it's difficult to judge "anyone who has to see their child go through this — no matter how conflicted I am about [these] methods."