Israeli medical researchers say medical marijuana could help subdue the effects of autism in children.
There has long been anecdotal evidence that cannabidiol -- the main non-psychoactive compound in marijuana -- can help relieve the effects of autism, but, until now, there has not been much clinical research into the matter, according to USA Today.
"Many parents were asking for cannabis for their kids," said Adi Aran, a pediatric neurologist leading the study. "First I said, 'No, there’s no data to support cannabis for autism, so we can’t give it to you.'"
Israel is currently a leader in medical marijuana research, with more than 110 active clinical trials, which is more than any other country.
In the U.S., only two medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat autism and both are antipsychotics.
Research into cannabis is also easier and less expensive in Israel than in the U.S.
In Philadelphia, Erica Daniels, a mother of an autistic 12-year-old, has been treating her son's condition with marijuana, despite questions about its legality.
"Leo was about 19 months old and he became very ill for two or three weeks with chronic ear infections and was generally unhappy and inconsolable," Daniels told Philly.com. After that incident, "he kind of went blank and was never the same again."
She says her son's condition is now "like ADHD times 1,000."
"He can't stop moving. It's self-stimulating behavior -- arms flailing, nonfunctional vocalization. He has debilitating anxiety and OCD," she explains.
Daniels first heard about medical marijuana for children from parents of kids with cancer.
She then decided to try it on her son and was surprised by the positive effects.
She says the 12-year-old had fewer tantrums, less anxiety, improved speech and the "quality of life as a family has improved dramatically."
Daniels has permission from Pennsylvania's Health Department to treat her son with medical marijuana, but is still concerned about the social stigma.
"Oh my God, people are thinking my kid is taking marijuana! It’s important to educate people. It’s like you would give liquid drops of Motrin," she said. "It doesn’t make them feel high, it brings them back to a regulated state."
Rose Terlaje, director of research at Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, said on the group's Facebook page that more attention should be given to the potential treatment.
"There's something out there that's working, but now we have to fight for it," she said.