Gage Henry will graduate from Dade County High School this month, but two years ago, his family wondered if he would ever earn his diploma.

Ravaged by a neurological disorder that would not respond to traditional treatments, Gage's family turned to cannabis oil, a form of “medical marijuana,” and he found almost-immediate relief.

What forced his family to take desperate measures to save their son? “To say the least, it’s been a journey,” said his mom, Carissa Webb.

At Dade, Gage is a star on the basketball court, and in the classroom.  A multi-sport athlete ranked in the top twenty of his graduating class, Gage exudes confidence and leadership.  But when he was in sixth grade, his parents realized something wasn't right.

According to Carissa, and Gage’s father, Shannon Henry, there were little things at first, like facial tics. By the time he was in tenth grade, the tics were more frequent, and more noticeable, up to four per minute. 

“It intensified as he got older,” Carissa said. “They were uncontrollable, and were distractions to him, and everybody around him.”

Carissa felt helpless watching her son gasp for air, struggling to control his neurological tics. Gage didn’t know what had overtaken his body.

“It was really rough,” he said. “I couldn’t grasp what was going on.”

The family rarely went out in public, fearing that Gage's tics would disturb a movie audience, or disrupt a church service.  Classmates tried to pretend nothing was happening. Doctors prescribed Valium and other safe medications. Finally a neurologist said the last hope was a strong medicine with potentially dangerous side effects like tremors, in addition to cognitive and vision problems.

“At that point,” Carissa said, “we took the prescription, walked out of the doctor’s office and just cried. We weren't going that route.” 

While looking for possible cures, she read an article about proposed medical marijuana legislation in Georgia.  The bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Allen Peake of Macon told her it would allow regulated medical cannabis to be grown in-state, and would expand the list of approved medical conditions for which it could be treated. Among them was Tourette's Syndrome.

“I began researching it immediately.” Carissa said. “I found this underground network of parents in Georgia who treat their kids with cannabis oil.”

As Gage's mom and dad were contacting families who had found relief, his condition was worsening.  He began to wonder about his future in the classroom, and on his sports teams.

Gage said, “I've always been a control freak, and all of a sudden I had no power. It was something I could not control, and it was becoming stressful to me.”

His parents noticed that his athletic endeavors were not suffering as much as his academics.

“Sports kept him busy,” according to his father, Shannon Henry. “Sitting still and focusing in the classroom was just about impossible.”

Carissa said, “We were so desperate, we never hesitated about taking this route. Yes, it was risky, but I was willing to lose my house.  I would have done anything. We’re talking about my son, and his quality of life.”

Carissa carefully washed, filtered, and boiled the cannabis, and started Gage on a low dose, with gradual increases.  For four days, there was no visible change in his condition. Then suddenly, at Shannon’s house, it happened.

“His dad sent me a text, I still get choked up about it,” Carissa said. “He said it's been two hours since there was a tic. Then it was four hours, and six hours. I just sat there and cried.”

Shannon added, “Just to see him go that long, and be normal for a few hours was a huge relief. I said we've finally found something that's going to work.”

Still, there were hurdles to overcome. A failed drug test could lead to Gage's dismissal from school, and the end of his athletic career. At the time, medical marijuana had not yet been approved in Georgia for Tourette's, but it was permitted for his seizure disorder. And there was the ongoing issue of acquiring the ingredients for cannabis oil in Georgia, where there are no dispensaries. Carissa will only say, “We had to be creative,” but emphasizes that the risk paid off. She said, “Gage’s form of cannabis oil is mostly THCA, which is non-psychoactive. He doesn’t feel any type of high from it.  Many people assume that all cannabis oil makes you high, so they think it’s a bad thing. It is not.”

As Gage prepares for college, he says, “I wish every other child like me had access to this, to get over the mountain like I had to.”

Largely because of Gage’s success, it is now legal in Georgia for those with Tourette's to use cannabis oil as treatment. However, it may be an uphill battle to legalize its production so it will be more readily available to patients in need of help.