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Meet Paige Figi, whose daughter helped change CNN doc Sanjay Gupta's mind about weed

At 6 p.m. Mountain Time on August 11, CNN will broadcast WEED, a documentary hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Previously a medical marijuana doubter, Gupta has done a 180, as witnessed by his just-published essay "Why I changed my mind on weed" -- and in it, he mentions Charlotte Figi, a Colorado child with a rare disorder who's made remarkable progress due to cannabis oil. Paige Figi, Charlotte's mom, who's featured along with her family in WEED, is pleased their story's going national -- and thrilled by Gupta's open-mindedness.

"The only reason I'm doing this is the chance of helping another child," Paige says.

Paige Figi.
Paige Figi.

As explained in a WEED preview, Charlotte, a twin born in 2006, was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, an uncommon, and serious, form of epilepsy in which a cellular mutation causes clusters of seizures, some of which last more than half an hour.

The ailment proved virtually untreatable, Paige says, and the impact of Dravet "covered all aspects of her life. Not just seizures but cognitive delays and feeding, sleeping and behavior issues -- everything."

Moreover, pharmaceuticals prescribed by a slew of doctors and other treatments didn't do much to help. "We might get a small break with a drug here or there," she allows, and a dietary regimen that required food to be weighed and measured to within a gram -- "I had to put together an Excel spreadsheet to figure out the ingredients" -- offered some relief of symptoms. But for the most part, Paige says, "medication was very detrimental to her."

Then, about a year and a half ago, Matt Figi, Charlotte's dad, who was serving in Afghanistan as a member of the Green Berets (he's still working in the country, but as a private contractor), suggested trying marijuana-related treatments.

Charlotte before she began taking cannabis oil treatments.
Charlotte before she began taking cannabis oil treatments.

After doing some research, the Figis decided to give cannabis oil a shot with help from the Realm of Caring Foundation, run by well-known Denver-area marijuana-scene figure Josh Stanley and his brothers. According to its website, the nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing "a better quality of life for residents of Colorado affected by cancer, MS, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, Parkinson's...through the use of medicated cannabis oil provided by Indispensary/Stanley family." Continue for more about the Figis, including a video preview of WEED and an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  

Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a preview of "WEED."
Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a preview of "WEED."

The cannabis oil, given to Charlotte in "an olive-oil extraction right under the tongue," doesn't have "a psychoactive effect," Paige stresses -- but it had an incredible impact on her beloved daughter. "It's helped everything," she says. "She has over 99 percent seizure control. She doesn't use her feeding tube anymore; she was 100 percent tube-fed before. She doesn't have her autistic behavior anymore, and she doesn't have severe sleep disorders. She can walk -- she's not in her wheelchair at all -- and she's talking. She couldn't talk before, and now she's talking. It's been a totally life-changing event, totally life-changing medicine."

As Charlotte began improving, and Realm of Caring started sharing her remarkable tale (and expanding its treatment to many more pediatric patients), the Figis were approached by plenty of news organizations. But she's glad she waited until now.

"I was very impressed by CNN and their professionalism," she says. While there were risks involved with Gupta -- "I knew he'd been against this a few years ago" -- she quickly came to believe "that things couldn't have gone more perfectly.

"We've been working with them for a year, and I was just in New York doing the pre-screening of the documentary -- and I was very happy with it. It's got its highs and lows, but I think it comes full circle and tells Charlotte's story objectively."

And what a story it is.

Look below to see a preview of WEED, as well as an appearance by Gupta on the Piers Morgan show, during which he talks about his change of heart about medical marijuana.

More from our Marijuana archive circa July 2012: "Medical marijuana patient Bob Crouse acquitted: Another wasteful prosecution?"


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