At 3 months old, Marissa Parsons began having frequent seizures, some lasting a half-hour. For almost two decades, her desperate parents tried drug after drug to treat her rare type of childhood epilepsy, but the medications mostly produced side effects — pancreatitis, hives and extreme drowsiness — and she was frequently hospitalized. Family outings became almost impossible. Eventually, her mother said, Marissa stopped smiling.
Three years ago, Marissa was enrolled in a clinical trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, testing a liquid anti-seizure drug made from a component of marijuana. Marissa, who cannot speak and uses a wheelchair, quickly went from eight seizures a day to half that number; these days, the 21-year-old has some weeks in which she doesn’t have any seizures. She routinely goes to