Denise Criss is asking the Edmonton public school board to allow her 15-year-old daughter to smoke marijuana between classes inside Victoria School of the Arts.
Criss says she has good reasons for the unusual request. Her daughter, Autum Bibaud-Keech, a Grade 10 student, uses the drug for medical purposes.
Criss's voice cracks with emotion as she explains why her daughter uses a drug that would typically get students in a lot of trouble.
"My daughter has scoliosis in her back and it causes a lot of the muscles in her back to be really tense and be really sore so she has chronic back pain from that and she's been diagnosed with a mood disorder including OCD, anxiety and depression," she said.
A learning experience
Using marijuana to treat these issues has been a learning experience for both mom and daughter.
"I personally used to use it when I was a teenager like a lot of people have. I used it for purposes of having fun so it was different for me," said Criss, who was open-minded when her daughter brought up the idea of using it medically.
"We went and talked to a doctor. I thought at first it would just be the oils and stuff, but it seems that smoking the medical marijuana seems to be helping her more than what the oils do."
Medical marijuana can be either smoked, vaporized or consumed orally. Different strains are said to have different impacts, with some causing more psychoactive effects than others. The daughter medicates both orally and through combustion or burning.
According to Criss, it's made a big difference.
"With the back pain, it gets rid of it right after she smokes it, up to two to three hours," said Criss.
"When she has an anxiety attack or if she's got the obsessive thoughts, when she smokes it, it just calms her down and she's able to relax and not have to think so much."
Autum is still taking anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic drugs.
But Criss said they, and their doctor, are hopeful the marijuana will enable her to stop using them. As for the back pain, Criss said they tried just about everything else.
"She had a physiotherapist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist, they did x-rays and everything they can, and they can't fix her back," said Criss, adding that her daughter refuses to take painkillers classified as narcotics.
"She wants to do things naturally, she doesn't want to ruin her liver at such a young age."
A daily routine
They've established a daily routine for her marijuana.
"She uses the CBD (cannabidiol) oil in the morning and then she has her medicinal marijuana with the THC in it that she smokes before she leaves for the bus for school," said Criss.
"Then she does the same when she gets home, and then before bed she has a CBD/THC oil and it helps her sleep."
Now her daughter wants to be able to smoke or vaporize marijuana while at school because they believe it's more effective than consuming oil orally.
"She would like to. It would help a lot," said Criss.
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The school board seems willing to accommodate the request.
In an email, spokesperson Raquel Maurier writes: "We work with the family to get proper documentation in place, such as a Medication Management Plan, and support the family — as we would with any student who has prescription medication that needs to be taken. We also have a conversation with the family about how the medication is supposed to be administered or taken."
Criss described how it might work in her daughter's case.
"She'll be supervised by a staff member in the office in a room," said Criss "So she'll be able to go in there for 15 minutes when she needs to, whether her back is hurting or she's having an anxiety attack, and then before her art classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
It's a relief for Criss, who was concerned her daughter would have to go outside to take her medication.
"She's in a downtown school in Edmonton," said Criss. "I didn't want people that aren't associated with the school knowing that she has her medicinal marijuana and jumping her or hurting her or asking her for it and making her feel uncomfortable."
Like any prescription
The Edmonton Catholic school board also appears to be open to students using medical marijuana.
Spokesperson Lori Nagy said it would be treated like any other prescription medication, and pointed out that they do allow Indigenous smudging ceremonies in schools which also produce smoke.
The Canadian Pediatric Society seems to have a different opinion when it comes to children smoking marijuana.
On its website, the organization calls it "unacceptable" and says "children should explore alternative delivery systems to provide safe and consistent drug concentrations."