Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Medical Marijuana Can Help Autism?
Can Marijuana Help Kids with Autism?
This mom says giving her kid pot has made all the difference.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
by Gina Kaysen Fernandes:
As the mother of an autistic child, Marie Myung-Ok Lee is navigating
uncharted territory as she struggles to manage her son's condition. She
has bravely come forward to share her son's battle with this mysterious
disorder, and to discuss how medical marijuana has brought them both
back from the brink of despair.
During what Marie calls the "dark phase," her son J had unpredictable
mood swings that could erupt into fitful rages. Her 9-year-old would
scream during lengthy tantrums, he refused to eat and threw his food on
the floor. J broke plates, windows, and other household items as a way
of expressing his pain and frustration. The family would hide out within
the confines of their home until the darkness passed.
J's behavior disrupted his school performance and terrified the staff.
"The teachers were wearing tae kwon do arm pads to protect themselves
against his biting," Marie said. The school monitored J's daily
outbursts on an "aggression chart" that documented as many as 300
episodes in one day that involved hitting, kicking, biting, or pinching
With her son in crisis, Marie had no choice but to perform an
intervention. But the only solution offered by child psychiatrists came
in a pill bottle. "His school tried to force us to medicate him," says
Marie, who feared the risk of dangerous side effects associated with
commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal. Many of the
FDA-approved drugs on the market used to treat symptoms of autism have
no proven safety track record for use in children.
Despite the unknown risks, more kids are using prescription drugs than
ever before. The number of children on psychiatric meds has skyrocketed
in recent years, according to reports in medical journals such as
Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Prescription drug use is
growing faster among children than the elderly and baby boomers. But
when it comes to medicating kids with marijuana, the issue becomes
"There's no such thing as a harmless drug, but marijuana is much less
harmful than other drugs," said Lester Grinspoon, M.D., a professor
emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Grinspoon is a
leading expert in the field of medical marijuana, who has authored
several books on the subject. "No one in the world has died from
marijuana," insists Grinspoon, who has spent four decades researching
the illicit drug.
Undeterred by the social stigma, Marie pursued this more natural
approach to calm J's demons. After discussing her wishes with J's
pediatrician, Marie decided to check out Marinol, a synthetic form of
THC, which is the primary cannabinoid in marijuana. After fine-tuning
J's dosage, she began hearing praises like, "J was a pleasure to have in
speech class," instead of complaints about his violent episodes.
After a few months, J built up a tolerance to the drug and his unruly
behavior returned. "The drawback of taking Marinol is that it's only
THC. That's the most powerful cannabinoid, but it may not be the most
relevant," said Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., an associate professor of
psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. Earleywine
says there are about 70 different cannabinoids in the marijuana plant,
many of which have medicinal value. Marie decided to take a chance on
the real deal.
All it took was a signed prescription and a background check for J to
become the youngest person in Rhode Island to obtain a license for pot.
After buying some marijuana-infused olive oil, Marie made a batch of pot
cookies. That night, J ate half of one cookie and "he was tired and
conked out," said Marie, who checked hourly on his sleep,
"half-expecting some red-eyed ogre from Reefer Madness to come leaping
out at us." To her relief, J slept soundly and appeared happy and mellow
the next day.
Over the past four months, Marie has documented her son's progress in an
online blog entitled, Why I Give My 9-Year-Old Pot, Part II. While she
doesn't believe marijuana is a cure for autism, it "allows J to
participate more fully in life without the dangers and sometimes
permanent side effects of pharmaceutical drugs." Dr. Grinspoon has seen
positive results with a number of his autistic patients who are
undergoing pot therapy. "I can confidently say to a parent that
marijuana relieves some types of pain. It's not going to hurt them if
you use it responsibly, " Grinspoon says. Ingesting the drug works better
because the effects can last up to eight hours. "A little goes a long
way," says Earleywine, who reminds parents that the drug can take up to
an hour and a half to kick in, "so wait a little while before
administering any more."
While a growing number of distressed parents are turning to the herbal
remedy, many moms with autistic kids are skeptical. "I feel it does more
harm than good," says Trish, the mother of a 7-year-old boy with autism.
"You are sedating the child, not treating the cause of the rage." Trish
believes that medicating kids with pot is a cop-out. "Nobody said
parenting was going to be easy, or that the solution to every problem is
to get our children stoned."
The mainstream medical community shuns the subject, and the government
refuses to fund any research that would legitimize marijuana use in
treating autism or aggression disorders. "Marijuana is a very loaded
subject," says Cara Natterson, M.D., a pediatrician and mother of two.
"As a parent and as a pediatrician, I feel a responsibility to know that
what I am putting into a child -- mine or someone else's -- is safe and
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the legalization of
marijuana, but does support further research into the potential medical
benefits of cannabis. "We need to make sure the treatment is safe -- we
haven't done that," Natterson adds. The doctor can sympathize with
parents who desperately want to help their child. "But wanting to
advocate for your child and making sure your child is safe are two
different things," Natterson said.
Marie is confident that she has made the right choice when she sees J's
transformation. "He doesn't look stoned. He just looks like a happy
Gina Kaysen Fernandes Gina Kaysen Fernandes is an award winning
documentary producer and a former TV news producer/writer. She lives in
Los Angeles with her husband and son.
http://www.momlogic .com/2009/ 11/can_marijuana _help_kids_ with_autism. php