VAN BUREN TWP. (AP) – Lisa Smith says her son’s behavior was dangerous: hair pulling, kicks, punches, all related to a severe form of autism. But it began to change more than a year ago when he was given daily oral doses of oil extracted from marijuana.
“That’s all stopped. He’s more focused, he’s calmer,” Smith said of 6-year-old Noah. “He sleeps better through the night. He has a better appetite. You can tell he’s growing, gaining weight.”
Noah is registered to use marijuana to control epileptic seizures; the effect on his autism was an unexpected benefit. Based on that success, Smith is asking the state of Michigan to add autism to the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.
A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Lansing. A committee mostly composed of health professionals will make a recommendation to the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
“I know parents who are desperate. They’re missing out on something that could enhance their child’s life,” Smith said. “A lot of children with autism don’t have another qualifying condition like Noah does with epilepsy.”
Since Michigan voters approved medical marijuana in 2008, it has been used to relieve the side effects of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and a few other conditions. Post-traumatic stress disorder was the first addition a year ago. Nearly 200 people under age 18, a tiny fraction of the total, are approved to use marijuana.
In 2013, the state’s Medical Marijuana Review Panel voted against making autism eligible, 7-2. There was skepticism about the effectiveness and a concern about adding more children to the registry. But the new effort seems more organized with more doctors willing to speak in favor, including Noah’s doctor, Dr. Harry Chugani, chief of pediatric neurology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.
“It seems to work. … Wouldn’t that be better than giving them all these psychiatric drugs?” Chugani said. “Not every autistic kid would take this, but if your behavior is wild and you have to be institutionalized, I as a physician would prefer to try medical marijuana. I have at least 50 patients on multiple drugs and still their behaviors are not controlled.”
The marijuana isn’t smoked. Smith described an elaborate process at her Van Buren Township home that involves cooking buds in a slow cooker, straining the mixture and putting it in the oven for hours. The result is a green oil taken by mouth.
“I’ve had other people tell me they see the change in Noah,” said Smith, 46.
Recent commentary in a respected medical journal recommends a conservative approach. Scott Hadland and John Knight, doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital, said marijuana “cannot be safely recommended” for behavioral disorders because of a “scarcity of data.”
“At best, some might consider its use as a last-line therapy when all other conventional therapies have failed,” they wrote in the February edition of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
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