Early in April, we were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Charlotte Figi. Charlotte was an incredible young woman who overcame many obstacles in her life. Charlotte directly and indirectly contributed to the development of the cannabis industry and impacted the lives of millions of people, two things Seed & Smith and many others in the industry are forever grateful for.
Charlotte’s Introduction to Cannabis
Charlotte Figi was born in 2006 in Colorado. By the time she was three months old, she had already begun having seizures. Doctors were able to identify her condition as a particularly nasty case of Dravet’s Syndrome. This is an extremely rare condition that affects about 1 in every 20,000 people, and is a lifelong condition which usually manifests itself in the form of epileptic seizures and slow development from an early age. By the time she was five years old, Charlotte was having up to 300 seizures a week, one almost every 30 minutes. As you can imagine, this took a toll on young Charlotte, who was confined to a wheelchair and used a feeding tube because she could not swallow. On several occasions, she was resuscitated after her heart stopped.
Medical professionals tried all they could, but eventually they ran out of pharmaceutical options. Undeterred, the Figi family began researching other possible treatments, desperately looking for anything that could ease Charlotte’s suffering and get her on the road to recovery. This too was futile, until they started researching CBD in 2012.
CBD had been used overseas to treat epilepsy, and the Figi family was encouraged by the efficacy shown by experimental patients. Having exhausted most other options, they decided to give CBD a try. However, it was a little tricky, as back in 2012, cannabis had not been widely accepted in the medical community yet. Their search led them to the Stanley brothers.
The Stanley brothers were developing a strain of cannabis called “Hippie’s Disappointment”. This was a strain of cannabis with extremely low levels of THC without sacrificing the high levels of CBD. This resulted in a strain that contained minimal psychotropic effects. At the time, there wasn’t much demand for cannabis that didn’t provide a “high”, and the Stanley brothers were at a loss at what to do with the new strain…until they met Charlotte.
After experimenting with the CBD-rich cannabis grown by the Colorado local Stanley brothers, Charlotte’s seizures began to subside after finding the right combination. Charlotte’s medical condition drastically improved; the number of seizures she experienced dropped from multiple seizures an hour to just two or three a month. By August, she was completely off of her epilepsy pharmaceuticals and she continued to progress in health over the next several years. By 2015, Charlotte no longer needed feeding tubes and she could walk, talk, and was living better than ever, according to her mother. Her strain created by the Stanley brothers, dubbed Charlotte’s Web, was profoundly life changing.
The Cannabis World’s Introduction To Charlotte
During this incredible progression, Charlotte’s story caught the attention of many people: cannabis enthusiasts, scientists, doctors, and local growers, just to name a few. However, and as many of us may remember, CNN aired a segment, WEED, in 2013 featuring Dr. Sanjay Gupta — a once staunch opponent of marijuana. Dr. Gupta introduced Charlotte to the world in a way that changed the perspectives of millions. Dr. Gupta himself apologized for not doing enough research on the medicinal properties of cannabis and had this to say about it:
“I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis,”
With coverage from CNN, word spreading rapidly not only in Colorado’s cannabis community but also in many others, and the increase in the number of states legalizing medical marijuana during the decade of 2010, Charlotte had propelled CBD into the spotlight with a heartfelt catapult. Moreover, during this time period, marijuana research skyrocketed which helped to uncover a bevy of other cannabinoids, Charlotte-like success cases, and scientific data supporting the benefits of CBD. It could be said that one little girl had changed the world, not just the cannabis industry.
CBD’s Newfound Spotlight & Challenges
Riding a wave of public interest and research founded claims, CBD entered into the cannabis room with a swagger opposite of THC. As we know, CBD by itself is non-psychoactive and has several health benefits due to its reaction with the human body’s natural cannabinoid receptors. In the year following CNN’s debut of WEED, 11 states in the US legalized the use of CBD for medicinal purposes, even when medical marijuana was not legal there. 2014 also was a year where internationally, CBD cultivation, legalization for medical treatment, and acceptance became more and more prominent. In 2015 & 2016, CBD-infused food items and treats for pets slowly became available to the general public; these items could even be found at many larger retailers like Walmart!
Yet, with all of the positive research findings and case studies surrounding CBD, it was due to face some adversity. Sure enough, in 2017 the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) boldly claimed CBD cultivated in the US was produced in violation of two major federal laws, which classified CBD products as a Schedule 1 substance on the Controlled Substances Act. Other drugs on the DEA’s Schedule I list include: heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. The DEA’s decision not only jeopardized the livelihood of many hemp farmers and CBD cultivators, but also the reliability of CBD as medicine for many individuals. CBD production, distribution, and purchasing face more stringent oversight than ever before.
The announcements made by the DEA in 2017 sparked a nationwide controversy at a federal and state level with litigation ensuing. 2018 was quite the roller coast for the CBD industry with the DEA continuing to harshly rule against CBD in the US court system. Meanwhile, in Canada, CBD products were approved for sale after the Cannabis Act was passed in June of 2018. Around the same time, Epidiolex was approved by the US Food & Drug Administration as the first non-synthetic, cannabis derived medicine. The CBD medicine, Epidiolex, was still under prescription and distribution scrutiny until late September, 2018, when the DEA finally removed CBD containing less than 0.1% THC from the Schedule 1 list.
It wasn’t until December that the 2018 Farm Bill passed which legalized the production of hemp and hemp-derived products that contain less than 0.3% THC. In 2020, with CBD products on nearly every shelf of convenience stores and retailers in America, the struggles of purchasing CBD seem to be almost an afterthought for many. It’s hard to imagine a world without CBD, ‘the miracle cure’, but it’s also hard for those in the cannabis industry to imagine CBD’s rise to glory without the powerful story of a little girl from Colorado Springs. Charlotte catalyzed a new wave of thinking about CBD, effectively helping to change the overarching stigma around cannabis. A one-of-a-kind plant that we still have so much to learn about and explore.
Thank you Charlotte for your everlasting impact on our community. Rest in peace.
 Dravet Syndrome Foundation – What is Dravet Syndrome?
 The New York Times – Charlotte Figi, Who Helped Popularize CBD for Medical Use, Dies at 13
 The Stanley Brothers – About Us