Nova Scotia

No cannabis in Nova Scotia group home, despite girl's prescription

Parents of a girl with severe epilepsy want to try treating their daughter with medicinal cannabis. Even though a doctor prescribed it, because she's living in a provincial care home, Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services won't allow it.

12-year-old in provincial care denied permission to try medical marijuana to treat severe epilepsy

Chantelle Oulton holds a picture of her 12-year-old daughter, Morgan. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Parents of a girl with severe epilepsy want to try treating their daughter with medicinal cannabis, but because she's living in a provincial care home, Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services won't allow it.

Morgan Oulton was born with multiple brain abnormalities and suffers from various forms of epilepsy. The 12-year-old has also been diagnosed with a variety of behaviour disorders, cognitive impairment, as well as autism.

Since she was three-years-old, Morgan has been on a series of medications to control her conditions. The drugs have had various rates of success, but also side effects.

A vicious cycle

Morgan, right, has been living in a provincial care home for the past nine months. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

"We want Morgan [to have] an opportunity to try [medical cannabis] because we've just watched her deteriorate on a lot of these medications," her father, Brent Oulton, said.

Chantelle Oulton describes the many drug treatments as a vicious cycle. She says anti-seizure drugs can cause behavioural problems and the drugs used to control behaviour can contribute to seizures, so at the age of 11, she decided to wean her daughter off all of them.

At first it went well. Surprisingly, Morgan was seizure free for three months. According to Chantelle, Morgan's personality also began to shine through.

Too much to handle

"She started eating great, sleeping great … cognitively, she bloomed," she said. "She wasn't the little zombie we had always had."

At the same time, Morgan's energy level increased and she became too hard for her parents to handle. One time, Chantelle says, Morgan ran away and ended up on a nearby highway.

"So now we have a very healthy, manipulative, conniving little girl. As great as it was, you suddenly couldn't cope with the full speed."

'Hardest decision'

The Oultons realized they could no longer provide the care Morgan needed. In Nova Scotia, for a child to be cared for in a provincial care home, the parents must sign over custody of their child to the province, which the Oultons did.

"It was definitely the hardest decision we've ever made. It was completely heart-wrenching — that you can't care for your child anymore," Chantelle said.

For the past nine months, Morgan has been living at Yarmouth Association for Community Residential Options. Her parents say she is well cared for there, with two caregivers watching her 24/7.

Seizures return

But shortly after she arrived at YACRO, Morgan suffered two seizures which caused her to collapse on the floor. The doctors put her on an anti-seizure medication, which the Oultons say might not be a good fit for their daughter.

Since taking the drug, Morgan has had 10 grand mal seizures over nine months, and she has also had up to 20 smaller seizures in a day.

Morgan is now being weaned off the drug, and after it is complete, the Oultons hope Community Services will allow their daughter to try cannabis oil.

Cannabis prescription

After lobbying doctors for several years, Morgan's parents convinced their daughter's pediatric neurologist to allow Morgan to try cannabinoid oil.

Despite having a prescription from Halifax's Cannabinoid Medical, so far, Morgan is unable to start treatment because she is in the care of the province.

"At this point, experts in the field have advised against the use of medical marijuana for people under the age of 18," a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services told CBC News in an email.

Cannabis denied, petition started

Chantelle Oulton says an email she received from one of Morgan's social workers told her the department was currently unable to support the plan and told them they are free to pursue the option of ending the current voluntary care agreement, and can have Morgan return home.

"We find it ludicrous that they expect us to terminate the contract for care to bring her home to try it, because if we do that and it does not work, we have no care options for our child," Oulton said. 

Brent and Chantelle have launched an online petition, which they plan to send to the prime minister's office, as well as Nova Scotia's minister of Community Services.


Phlis McGregor


Phlis McGregor is an award-winning journalist with CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia where she digs into stories ranging from systemic racism to forestry issues. Phlis has a B.Sc. in environmental toxicology and a master's degree in environmental studies. Story idea? or follow her on Twitter @phliscbc