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Should Medical Marijuana Be Used to Treat Kids With Autism?

With more and more children being diagnosed with autism, a search for a treatment is moving past traditional medicines. Now one focus is whether medical marijuana can be effective in curbing, easing or even reversing some of the by-products of autism.

In some instances, autism can make children violent and aggressive. "Sam" is one of those children. The 10-year-old boy from Northern California would lash out with no provocation.

"He got to the point where he was hurting other children, when he was in school, or in public places," his mother told KTLA News. "We'd be in line at the store, and he'd just bolt and hit another child in the face without any warning at all."

Working with doctors, Sam was put on traditional medications such as Risperdal, which has massive weight gain as a side effect. Sam was still violent, but now 20 pounds heavier and stronger.

After speaking with a medical cannabis doctor, the family decided to give marijuana a try. Sam's father grows it in the backyard, making the concentrated form commonly referred to as hash. Sam eats a speck of it hidden in a piece of fruit.

"The first time we did it, we wanted to see if it would work at all," the father recalled. "It was an amazing experience, I'll never forget it, as we watched what happened, it was like 'He's back!' It was like all this anguish, pent-up rage and aggressiveness went away -- it just calmed him down."

This is not the only success story. Marie Myung-Ok Lee of Rhode Island gives her autisticson cannabis tea and cookies made with marijuana-infused oil. Her 9-year-old son has aggression issues, stomach pain, and "pica," which means he eats non-edible items. But after taking his daily doses of medical marijuana, it all goes away. She writes on the website

"Next, we started seeing changes in J.’s school reports. His curriculum is based on a therapy called Applied Behavioral Analysis, which involves, as the name implies, meticulous analysis of data. At one parent meeting in August (J. is on an extended school year), his teacher excitedly presented his June-July “aggression” chart. An aggression is defined as any attempt or instance of hitting, kicking, biting, or pinching another person. For the past year, he’d consistently had 30 to 50 aggressions in a school day, with a one-time high of 300. The charts for June through July, by contrast, showed he was actually having days—sometimes one after another—with zero aggressions."

There are similar stories from many parents. But the big question remains: Is it really safe to give medical marijuana to children? Los Angeles-area pediatrician Chris Tolcher said we just don't know enough yet to give an answer.

"I think for all the parents out there whose children may have autism," Tolcher says, "The message here is that this is intriguing information that needs more research before we can confidently say that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for autism complications."

But consider this from Dr. Bernard Rimland of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego:

"I stress that I am strongly opposed to drugs in general, and consider them a last resort to be employed only when safer and more efficacious treatments fail. But while I am not 'pro-drug,' I am very much 'pro-safe and effective treatment,' especially in cases where an autistic individual’s behaviors are dangerous or destructive. Early evidence suggests that in such cases, medical marijuana may be a beneficial treatment, as well as being less harmful than the drugs that doctors routinely prescribe."


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