October 25, 2016

Raising a child with autism is a challenge. There is a wide range of symptoms, and no two children with the disorder are exactly the same. Mainstream medicine offers few solutions, and treatments that work for one child may do nothing for another. Many parents are forced to look for new, unproven treatment options hoping for a miracle. Some have even gone so far as to try medical marijuana.

Alex Echols is an 11 year old boy from Oregon. He suffers from a condition called tuberous sclerosis, which causes non-malignant tumors to form in his organs. These tumors have affected his brain, causing seizures and autism.

The disease caused Alex to engage in extreme self-destructive behaviors, such as slapping himself and banging his head until he was bloody. The family tried various behavioral approaches, and many different medications, including Zoloft, Risperdal, Valium, and Haldol, but nothing worked. Finally, they were forced to move him into a group home at age 9.

Then Alex’s mother found some information about the use of medical marijuana to treat extreme rage in autistic patients. The family was able to obtain a medical marijuana card to treat Alex’s seizures, and started treating him using microliters of hash oil. The dosage had to be tweaked a bit – too little didn’t help, and too much made him sleepy.  But they found that at the right dose, Alex was calm, attentive, and able to learn in a way that he’d never been before. His family reports on Alex’s progress at their blog www.alexneedshelp.com.

Meiko Hester-Perez of Fountain Valley, California, is another parent who treats her son’s autism with medical marijuana. Like Alex, her son had rages and self-injurious behaviors. He was also dangerously underweight, due to extreme sensory issues around foods. She had tried various medications, with little results, but when she gave him a brownie laced with marijuana, things changed. His moods stabilized, he is trying new foods, and he is gaining weight. His mother credits medical marijuana with saving her son’s life.

The American Medical Association does not recommend the use of medical marijuana to treat children, regardless of the diagnosis. Some studies have shown that regular use of marijuana can affect brain development and lead to decreased IQ. There have also been recent studies linking marijuana use with autism.

There is no current research supporting the efficacy of medical marijuana to treat symptoms of autism, but for the families who are seeing the changes in their children, this is no deterrent. Many families have tried controversial, untested treatments, including heavy-metals chelating, and now medical marijuana is joining the ranks. Many of these parents have given their children stronger, legal cocktails of drugs, with mixed results, and find that the marijuana offers more benefits with fewer side effects.

Is medical marijuana a miracle cure for some of the symptoms of autism? Only time and future research will tell, but for these parents, the benefits outweigh the risks.

About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/speaking_autism and https://www.facebook.com/speaking.autism.ca

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