The CBD boom could soon make its way into the classroom, if some Minnesota parents can win over wary school officials and state lawmakers.
For Kelly King, that would mean peace of mind when she sends her 12-year-old son off to school in Chaska every day. Kade King suffers from grand mal seizures that render him unconscious and convulsing for minutes at a time. He needs his “rescue med” — an oral CBD oil — to snap out of it, because he struggles to metabolize epilepsy drugs and has even had adverse reactions to them.
But CBD is not an option for sick children in most Minnesota schools, which ban it and medical cannabis on their grounds. That’s why parents whose children rely on CBD for medical reasons are fighting for change. It’s a debate that’s intensifying as the state medical cannabis program grows and the consumer market for CBD explodes in popularity.
“It’s nerve-racking to put [Kade] on the bus every day,” King said. “Get a policy together. My son’s life is on the line here.”
While the reasons for families are crystal clear, the decision facing schools is not. Minnesota law bars medical marijuana from school grounds, but there is no such language for retail CBD products.
The market for CBD, short for cannabidiol, took off after Congress passed a 2018 farm bill that distinguished hemp from marijuana. That allowed retailers to sell hemp-derived CBD products that do not contain more than 0.3% THC — the ingredient in marijuana that gets users high — and are not promoted for unproven medical cures or benefits.
CBD products became legal under state law more recently, on Jan. 1. But many school districts, confused by the legal ambiguity and concerned about a market that lacks research and regulation, have banned CBD oils, ointments and inhalants from campuses.
“I think that we’re in uncharted territory right now and we’re trying to find the way,” said Terry Morrow, director of legal and policy services for the Minnesota School Boards Association. “School districts around the country are trying to figure out those questions.”
State regulators have asked the Minnesota Legislature to provide an answer. A state task force made up of officials from several agencies urged lawmakers to address issues about CBD use in schools, hospitals and nursing homes in a report released last week.
Parents who give their children CBD say that schools and state officials should consider the stories of kids like Kade, whose seizures have decreased in frequency and intensity without harmful side effects.
Sympathy, but caution
Kade can descend into a grand mal seizure at any moment. Outside of school, King can rush to her son’s side and administer his CBD oil, which has an almost immediate effect. It calms his contracting muscles and slows his breathing until he wakes minutes later.
Epilepsy drugs have been less effective, even harmful. When Kade took Keppra, he contracted a life-threatening skin condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome that covered his arm in blisters and burns. Ethosuximide gave him a monthlong fever, Lamictal spawned suicidal thoughts and diazepam caused fatigue and headaches.
“If the school board wants to choose a correct option for him, they’re not making the right choice,” said King, who has feuded with her son’s school district for the past five months.
At Chaska Middle School West, where Kade is a sixth-grader, epilepsy drugs are the only option. The Eastern Carver County Schools district bans CBD products from school grounds because they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). District staff consulted the state Department of Health and Board of Pharmacy on the policy, a spokeswoman said.
Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Board of Pharmacy, believes that most CBD products are still illegal because pharmacologically, they act as drugs. And drugs cannot be sold unless they are approved by the FDA; the only FDA-approved drug containing CBD is Epidiolex, which treats epileptic seizures.
“I feel a lot of sympathy for [parents], but the issue becomes when you’re talking about school nurses administering the drug,” Wiberg said.
Schools are taking a “cautious approach” because they would risk losing federal funding if they allow CBD products on their grounds, Morrow said. The lack of regulation for these products has sparked concerns about inaccurate labels and ingredient lists. If a school were to allow a CBD oil that contained more than 0.3% THC, it would be considered marijuana, and would violate the Controlled Substances Act.
How parents cope
Pia Prenevost has discussed this issue with close to a dozen families whose children attend Lionsgate Academy, a charter school for seventh to 12th-graders on the autism spectrum. As district nurse for the academy’s three campuses, she has fielded a growing number of inquiries about the use of medical cannabis and CBD in schools.
If Prenevost had it her way, Lionsgate Academy would allow medical cannabis and permit CBD use if a doctor signs off on it.
“I think you should always be guided by knowledgeable doctors and practitioners who understand what the effects are,” she said.
That would benefit many kids at the school, she said, including her son Jonathan, who uses medical cannabis for autism and Tourette’s syndrome. Prenevost schedules Jonathan’s doses before and after school since she cannot bring the medicine on campus. Though not ideal, she said it’s more convenient than pulling him out of school to administer off grounds.
That’s what Krystal and Justin Koball do for their 14-year-old daughter, Kaya, who needs three CBD doses a day to treat her epilepsy. Kaya has had fewer absence seizures while using CBD oil — the same one as Kade’s — and recovers more quickly from grand mal seizures.
Every weekday at 1 p.m., Justin Koball leaves his auto detailing business in Rochester to pull Kaya out of her freshman classes at Mayo High School. He drives her off campus, gives her a dose of CBD oil and then brings her right back.
“It overtakes our entire schedule,” Krystal Koball said. “It’s caused us to pull in resources like grandparents on events when we’re not able to make that happen.”
Help may be on the way.
Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, has drafted a bill that would allow both medical cannabis and CBD oil in schools. She modeled it after a new Virginia law that lets nurses administer the products to students who have a doctor’s approval.
About a dozen states have passed similar laws to allow medical cannabis in schools, according to the National School Boards Association.
But the bill’s path through the Legislature may be rocky, Edelson said. She expects pushback from school boards and nurses, who opposed similar language she introduced and then withdrew last year.
“We need to have some families who are willing to come forward,” Edelson said.