She left 32 years of her life behind in Huntsville to relocate to northern California in search of a medical marijuana sanctuary for her 20-year-old daughter, Aubrie, who has suffered from epilepsy since she was 5.
The Hills are a snapshot of a small migration west for some Alabama families seeking access to various forms of medical marijuana that are unlawful to possess in their home state. In the Hills' new California home, medical marijuana is legal.
One Alabama family that moved to Oregon to access medical marijuana chose not to do an interview with AL.com at this time while another in Colorado did not respond to an interview request.
Hill, meanwhile, has a message she wants you to hear. And for a state like Alabama, which has barely dipped its toe into the world of medical marijuana through 2014's Carly's Law study, it may be shocking.
While anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs) left her daughter suicidal, Hill said, marijuana – both in the recreational and medical iterations – have rescued Aubrie from that physical and emotional abyss.
And, yes, that marijuana treatment includes Aubrie getting a high.
"There sure is," her mother said when asked if there was a high associated with the medical marijuana Aubrie takes. "And you know what? I will tell you something and I think it's really ridiculous the way the Deep South has embraced this CBD strain that doesn't cause any kind of mind-altering ... God forbid we should make these children happy, right?"
Hill's voice began to take on an edge, an urgency that trampled on the popular selling point in Alabama of marijuana's cannabidiol (CBD oil) that does not include a capacity for euphoria.
"Just take a look at any of the AEDs that the western medical community is pushing," Hill continued. "All of them – all of them -- affect these children's personalities and not in a good way – not euphoric at all. It makes them depressed, it makes them moody, it makes them emotional. Keppra was so bad. You can look at the side effects of Keppra (an AED which includes mood changes such as violent behavior, suicidal thoughts and panic attacks, according to the Food & Drug Administration).
"When the Southern culture is so closed-minded that they can't allow something because it might alter a personality, I take issue with that strongly. And I think you can feel that in the way that I'm delivering it to you at this moment."
The Hills have been in California for two weeks, moving into an apartment in the Santa Rosa suburb of Sebastopol – about 55 miles north of San Francisco. Vicki said she spent 32 years in Huntsville and that she and Aubrie have left a wealth of family behind.
Already, they say, Aubrie has seen a decrease in seizures with more accessible CBD oil as well as THCA, another marijuana extract.
"We were able to get her some CBD oil," Vicki said, "and a product called THCA she is to ingest and that, so far, when she went from having several auras (warning signs of a possible seizure that may include partial seizures) and the day after we arrived, she had a very violent seizure before we were able to get her on the medication.
"So far, she has gone from having 10-12 auras a day and a big Grand mal (a full-body seizure that can include a loss of consciousness) and she hasn't had any more and her auras have gone down to about one a day."
Aubrie began to see a marked improvement in her health three years ago when she began to smoke recreational marijuana, her mother said. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, classified on the same level as heroin and LSD and on a higher level than Schedule 2 drugs cocaine and methamphetamine.
"Aubrie did discover recreational marijuana on her own about three years ago and I witnessed a child that went from suicidal to giggling and hungry," Vicki said. "Her appetite was horrible on regular Western medication. So she started smoking pot and I, quite frankly, in the state of Alabama, said 'Let's go get some more.'
"So we did that and looked over our shoulders for two years. It was horrifying. I was very worried about the legal implications of that."
The Hills, though, said they could not ignore the benefits.
"It didn't mainly help the seizures," Aubrie said. "It helped things that would cause seizures – eating disorder, stress, no sleep."
Vicki said, "My daughter was 18 and I was like, 'What the heck happened to her?' She was suicidal, like looking at cutting her wrists, crying all the time; I couldn't get her off the couch. She wouldn't eat, couldn't eat. So it was a marked difference just for her to explore with the recreational. I have taken a lot of heat on that one – not only with my friends but her friends and her family and everything else. It's just a stigma that's attached to it and it's unfortunate."
Vicki said she does not advocate smoking marijuana, saying there are more effective ways to ingest it than through smoking.
"Honestly, I've seen Aubrie's energy increase since we've been on the THCA and the CBD oil. Recreational marijuana, to me, while it was a prop in Huntsville while we were there, it was something that she used temporarily. To me, it was not the best delivery – smoking is not the best delivery.
In its various forms, marijuana has proven to be more effective than synthetic drugs, Vicki said.
"We have found that the anti-epileptic drugs have about a six-month lifetime before they start failing," said Vicki, saying that doctors frequently would increase the dosage to combat the diminishing benefits. And the side effects, she said, "are just unbelievable."
"A big whew!"
The fear over the legal aspects of marijuana finally drove the Hills to California, Vicki said. Her online business has most of its customers in California, she said, which made the move to the West Coast seamless from a professional standpoint.
"It's been extremely stressful but at the same time, the legal aspect is a big 'whew!'" Vicki said. "From the moment I arrived on California soil, I didn't feel like I was breaking the law anymore."
While still getting settled in California, Aubrie has not yet found a doctor to help her care for her epilepsy. She plans to visit the University of California San Francisco Medical Center soon. UCSF has been a leader in medical marijuana research and the San Diego campus is home to the University of California's Center for Medical Cannabis Research.
Vicki is also in the process of starting a non-profit organization – Voices for Cannabis -- to advocate for medical marijuana. A website (voicesforcannabis.org) is expected to go live soon.
Vicki described the foundation as "my goal and my dream now for four or five months since I started realizing California was going to happen."
"My goal is to change the stigma around medical marijuana by sharing the stories of people it has impacted positively," she said. "If we can just convince people that it's not evil, I think that would be great."
In : Marijuana Regulation
Tags: california medical marijuana