While covering stories for NORML’s Daily Audio Stash, I’ve noticed a trend lately in stories involving parents treating childhood mental health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
(ABC’s Good Morning America, click link for video) Given the many challenges involved in raising an autistic child, parents are willing to try a variety of potential remedies, many of which are controversial and unproven.
[Meiko] Hester-Perez made her decision to try giving her 10-year-old son, Joey Perez, medical marijuana after his weight had become dangerously low due to his unwillingness to eat. She said that at the time she began the approach, he weighed only 46 pounds.
But just hours after she gave him one of the pot-infused brownies, she said she could see a change — both in his appetite and demeanor.
She added that her son used to take a cocktail of medications, three times every day, for his condition. He now takes only three, and he has a marijuana brownie once every two or three days.
“I saved my son’s life, and marijuana saved my son’s life…” said Hester-Perez.
(New York Times) Several Bay Area doctors who recommend medical marijuana for their patients said in recent interviews that their client base had expanded to include teenagers with psychiatric conditions including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
…[Medical m]arijuana advocates maintain that it is also safer than methylphenidate (Ritalin), the stimulant prescription drug most often used to treat A.D.H.D. That drug has documented potential side effects including insomnia, depression, facial tics and stunted growth.
In Berkeley, Dr. Frank Lucido said he was questioned by the medical board but ultimately not disciplined after he authorized marijuana for a 16-year-old boy with A.D.H.D. who had tried Ritalin unsuccessfully and was racking up a record of minor arrests.
Within a year of the new treatment, he said, the boy was getting better grades and was even elected president of his special-education class. “He was telling his mother: ‘My brain works. I can think,’ ” Dr. Lucido said.
(DoubleX.com) My son J has autism. He’s also had two serious surgeries for a spinal cord tumor and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us.
[S]ince we started him on his “special tea,” J’s little face, which is sometimes a mask of pain, has softened. He smiles more.
Pre-pot, J. ate things that weren’t food. There’s a name for this: pica. … His pica become so uncontrollable we couldn’t let him sleep with a pajama top (it would be gone by morning) or a pillow (ditto the case and the stuffing)…
Almost immediately after we started the cannabis, the pica stopped. Just stopped. J. now sleeps with his organic wool-and-cotton, hypoallergenic, temptingly chewable comforter.
Next, we started seeing changes in J.’s school reports. … 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.
The anecdotal evidence keeps showing some remarkable results for some young patients in treating the symptoms of these mental health disorders. However, it is important to note that it is, at this stage, just anecdotal evidence. There is a paucity of studies researching the use of cannabis for these disorders in children and teens, owing in large part to the government’s placement of cannabis on Schedule I. The only research generally allowed on cannabis in America is to show the dangers of its use, not its medical benefits.
At NORML, we are adamant about the ending of marijuana prohibition for all adults. While we may quibble about the definition of “adult” being age 18 or age 21, we are definitely in agreement that under age 18, cannabis use should be limited strictly to medical cases with doctor’s supervision. Cannabis is certainly not a harmless substance — no physically and mind-altering substance is — and there is some research data available showing potential detrimental mental health effects among young chronic cannabis users.
That said, medical use of cannabis for minors is still a thorny subject, even here at NORML. We are reminded of our advisory board member, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who monitored his pre-teen son’s successful use of cannabis during leukemia treatments. Certainly youth medical marijuana use in that scenario – a child wasting away in pain dying from cancer – sets one end of the cost/benefit spectrum. Clearly the benefits outweigh the risks. But as we examine medical marijuana use for mental health disorders, especially where conventional drugs and behavioral therapies have already been proven successful, we reach the other end of the spectrum where the decisions are more difficult.
One thing on which we can all agree is that there needs to be much more medical research into this issue. We encourage Congress and the President to take the advice of the AMA from two weeks ago which urged that “the Schedule I status of marijuana be reviewed with the goal of facilitating clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.”
Another point of agreement: arresting, fining, and imprisoning parents and doctors who are agonizing over health care decisions involving cannabis therapies for their children is unnecessary and cruel.