SOUTHERN COLORADO — Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD, is a derived from the hemp plant and is now one of the most common cannabis products used to treat a variety of medical conditions, ranging from epilepsy to autism.
As parents seek out this treatment for their children, they could run into problems with state Child Protective Services due to a perceived loophole in Colorado law.
News5 spoke with staff at the El Paso County Department of Human Services, who say calls regarding child CBD usage do not make up a large percentage of their workload. A local cannabis group for medical patients, the Canna-Patient Resource Connection says otherwise, claiming they've seen a spike in the number of parents coming forward asking why DHS would question their child's CBD usage.
News5 spoke with several families and their experiences with CBD and problems with authorities who watch out for the well-being of children.
In Colorado, CBD products are legally allowed to contain .03% of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the part of the cannabis plant that gets a person high. The Canna-Patient Resource Connection says that small amount of THC can build up over time, possibly leading to a positive result for marijuana use on a drug test. With the rapid spread of CBD products across the country, not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, it is difficult to know the exact amounts of THC in the products.
"By definition, you are always giving your child THC and that's the loophole that CPS uses. It's not necessarily that you're giving CBD, it's that you are technically always giving the child THC, and that's illegal under state law unless you are in the registry," said Bridget Seritt, the co-founder of the Canna-Patient Resource Connection.
Seritt says it is common for cases regarding CBD to be dropped by DHS quickly. She wants to remind parents it would be wise to take steps to secure a medical marijuana card for their child before using CBD products recommended by a doctor.
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law and illegal for children to use without the proper documentation secured. On the other hand, CBD is derived from hemp, which is no longer considered a controlled substance because of the Farm Bill.
News5 visited Grow Life Medical Dispensary in Colorado Springs which does sell CBD products containing THC. Manager Chris Spurlock says people should expect some THC in almost every CBD product. "However, there are some out there that definitely claim to have zero levels of THC or incredibly low levels. Those you can only trust to a certain extent," Spurlock says.
Grow Life only sells to to customers who have a medical marijuana card or caregivers of a cardholder. "I know that a lot of these doctors are incredibly careful about giving any kind of recommendation to anybody who's under 18 at all," Spurlock says.
Ginger Harless told us she did not realize sat first she needed a medical marijuana card for her son to use CBD products. Her family turned to CBD for treatment after multiple pharmaceutical attempts to treat her son's autism, bipolar disorder, and ADHD failed.
"I actually asked his pediatrician at first, you know, I've read up on this, what do you think? And the pediatrician gave me the information to go see a medical marijuana doctor," Harless says. Harless told News5 they started using CBD in 2018 and introduced THC into the mix in 2019. She said in October of 2019, DHS was knocking on her door. "Without that credential to have, without that recommendation, and without that card, I could serve jail time," Harless says.
Harless says she now has a medical marijuana license for her teenage son, but is still upset about being reported to DHS. "For them to then turn me over, to add more to my plate with DHS and police officers, sometimes the days feel absolutely unmanageable," Harless says.
State law requires 'mandatory reporters' to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Mandatory reporters include medical professionals, social workers, firefighters, and police officers. (Click here for a full list)
At the El Paso County Department of Human Services, officials are checking to make sure the child is safe, the substance is stored properly, and there's a sober caregiver in the house, according to April Jenkins, the Children, Youth, and Family Services Intake Manager.
"When we get a report that there is an allegation that a child may be consuming CBD, if there is no information in that report that this is prescribed or even any medical marijuana is prescribed to that child, that does raise our level of concern... We won't just go out if we have information that it's being used properly. So, if a referral comes in and it is clear that it's being used properly and for the right reasons, and there's a prescription in place, there may not be a reason for us to respond. But we are responding when there are concerns in that report that alleges that it may be misused," Jenkins says.
Jenkins says the reporting system used by her department does not classify their calls with specific drug categories. She shared with us data showing the offices received more than 16,000 referrals, assessed a little more than a third of those contacts, and found roughly 1,800 being substantiated for child abuse and neglect.
The Wann Family
News5 spoke to other families who have been reported to CPS in the past for giving their children CBD. One of those families lives in Douglas County, and gives their epileptic son CBD for his seizures. However, they said once they told their school district about the CBD, they were reported to DHS.
Ben Wann has been getting seizures since he was three years old. His mother, Amber Wann, said when they put him on anti-epileptic drugs they noticed some side-effects. "He just had rages and fits and everything like that. And it seemed very painful, it seemed like he was in pain emotionally and we didn't know how to help him," said Amber Wann.
With their doctor's approval, Amber said they started weaning Ben off of the pharmaceuticals, and he went nine months without a seizure. But then, they came back. "They were lasting four minutes long, and five minutes is typically when brain damage sets in for most children, so it seemed pretty dire that we get something for him," said Amber.
So the family turned to CBD, and Amber said now, Ben has not had a seizure for four years. "It made me relax more," said Ben Wann.
Amber Wann said she emailed the school to let them know about the changes to Ben's medication. Soon after she sent the email, she said they were reported to DHS. "We went ahead and just told them that we were giving him Charlotte's Web and that his doctor knows about it, and that we're not doing anything wrong," said Amber Wann.
Amber Wann said the case was dropped pretty quickly, but the family is still fighting the school district. The Wann's want the district to allow medicinal marijuana to be stored on school campuses, and for the school nurses to be able to administer it. Currently, the Wann's said only parents or caregivers could administer medical marijuana to a student while on campus. While Ben only takes CBD normally, the Wann's have a nasal spray that contains THC, which is to be used in case of an emergency to help Ben come out of a seizure.
News5 reached out to the Douglas County School District, which provided this statement: "A complaint has been filed with a State regulatory agency against DCSD regarding this matter. As a result, we are unable to provide anything further at this time." The district did also point us to their board policies and related documents, which we have attached below.
Still, Amber Wann said she does want to ensure other families are aware of the best way to protect themselves while using CBD for children. "It wouldn't just hurt to just take the steps to get that medical card and be protected all the way around in case you were questioned," said Amber Wann.
Amber Wann also pointed to the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which defunds the Department of Justice from coming after people who use or handle medical marijuana.
The Jerger Family
A different side of this story about CBD and children comes from outside of Colorado. The Jerger family now lives in Colorado Springs, after moving from Indiana because they said the Department of Child Services there harassed them for having their young epileptic daughter use CBD.
Lelah Jerger said her daughter, Jaelah, was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was a little more than one year old. Jerger said in 2017, CBD was legal in Indiana for certain medical conditions, but not Jaelah's specific form of epilepsy. "It was on the fence. It wasn't legal, but it wasn't illegal," said Jerger.
Jerger said their family was reported by the hospital they used for Jaelah at the time. She said DCS was concerned the family was not giving Jaelah her prescribed pharmaceuticals. "She hands us this paper, and this paper says that we are to take Jaelah to the hospital to get lab work done every single week because we have to prove to CPS she's on Keppra," said Jerger. Jerger said the Keppra was negatively affecting her daughter.
By October, Jerger said they were told the case looking into their family had been dropped. However, Jerger said caseworkers continued to show up at their home. The Jergers said they filed a lawsuit against DCS at the start of 2018. "That began the crapshoot that was going to be our life from then on. We were investigated by CPS every 30 days," said Jerger.
Jerger said she felt as though nothing would change in Indiana, and had seen dramatic improvements in her daughter's seizures since using the CBD. So the family left, and moved to Colorado Springs, where she said they have not once been contacted by the El Paso County Department of Human Services. "They ruined our life in Indiana. They completely destroyed every sense of security that we had, they destroyed every sense of family, I mean everything... But I knew that if we did not get our kids out of there, we would have lost them," said Jerger.
The Jergers said they will continue their case against DCS in Indiana for as long as it takes, because they believe their rights were violated.
News5 reached out to those with Indiana DCS, who said they cannot comment on pending legislation. The Jerger case can be found on the ACLU's website.