Arizona Mothers Challenge State Over Autism and Cannabis Oil
O nly five states specifically allow autism patients to legally access whole plant cannabis, so long as they get the appropriate doctor recommendations. The Arizona chapter of MAMMA, Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, is working hard to make their state the sixth on the list—and they’ll take their case to state officials in Phoenix today.
‘Within 20 minutes of his first dose I saw it provide relief to my son.’
This will be the group’s second meeting with officials from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), which regulates the list of qualifying conditions. In early May, MAMMA members convened for three days with ADHS officials to consider the organization’s petition to let medical professionals recommend medical cannabis for autistic children.
The ADHS website lists nine medical conditions that currently qualify a patient for medical marijuana. Autism isn’t on that roster. And according to Brandy Williams, Arizona state chapter director for MAMMA, state officials at the previous hearing were far from sympathetic to MAMMA’s concerns.
“They said there are no clinical peer review trials that have been published on cannabis and autism,” she told Leafly, “but the same can be said for every single thing that we currently have on (the state’s) list. And then when we brought that up they said, ‘Well, our cannabis program was a voter initiative; the health department had no say in those conditions.’”
Autism as a Qualifying Condition
|Autism is a qualifying condition in these states:||Cannabis may be recommended by doctors for many conditions, including autism, in these states:|
|Georgia||District of Columbia|
Stopping Her Son’s Seizures
Williams’ eight-year-old son Logan is autistic and was recently able to access medical cannabis. But that was only because he also suffers from seizures, one of the medical conditions that Arizona includes among its qualifying conditions.
“My son was banging his head 75 to 150 times per day,” Williams said. “Logan never sat still. We called him the Tasmanian Devil. He ripped off hinges on kitchen doors. Our front door, a metal door, had 30 dent marks from his head.”
Williams and her husband pawned their wedding rings and other valuables to purchase a pediatric cannabis card in Arizona, to get Logan his medically-approved cannabis oil.
“Within 20 minutes of his first dose I saw it provide relief to my son,” she said. “That night he fell asleep naturally. From there he said 180 words in the first two months, after being completely non-verbal. He’s making eye contact, can complete tasks, responds to thing s we say. He went to school this entire year, with only two minor incidents. And he’s now reading.”
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Better Than Other Meds
Other Arizona parents see medical cannabis as a safer alternative to the anti-psychotic medications usually prescribed as treatment for children with severe autism.
Kayla Roussel, a “new but fierce” member of Arizona MAMMA, has three young children on the autistic spectrum. She tried the anti-psychotic meds with her eight-year-old but had to stop after two weeks.
“It caused hallucinations,” she said. “It caused him to scratch his face until he bled. It made everything worse.”
Roussel said the previous hearing in May took an emotional toll on the MAMMA members. “The state attorneys essentially called us liars,” she said.
Williams recalled one of the Arizona state attorneys belittling MAMMA’s petition.
“He said, ‘You know this petition is too broad. I’m a little bit quirky and I wear glasses, does that mean I need cannabis?’ He basically painted this picture that most people on the autism spectrum are living normal lives and that this petition is way too broad, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re denying this.”
But at that point, Williams said she provided the state attorney with a study that shows 87 percent people on the autism spectrum live with their parents for the rest of their lives, and that most people on the autism spectrum qualify for social security disability.
“If autism isn’t debilitating I don’t know what is,” she said.
Parent Testimony Coming
When testimony resumes today, “our lawyer gets to cross examine the doctors from the state, and then the parent testimony will be read,” Williams said. “We haven’t even gotten to the parent testimony yet.”
The judge in the case then has 20 days to decide whether ADHS lawfully declined MAMMA’s petition.
For its part, ADHS officials said they can’t speak about a hearing in progress.
“ADHS accepts petitions to add a debilitating medical condition to the list of debilitating medical conditions for the Medical Marijuana Program in January and July of each year,” a department spokesperson said in an email to Leafly. “Detailed information about submitting a petition for the addition of a debilitating medical condition can be found online here A.R.S §36-2801.01 and here A.A.C. R9-17-106.”
Terrifying to See
“Our lawmakers, just because they don’t like [cannabis] doesn’t mean it’s not medicine,” said Williams. “And I guarantee you that us parents are going to do whatever it takes to get our children well. And they’re going to wear down before we do.”
“The autism community needs help,” said Kayla Roussel. “There are so many families struggling with kids who are hurting themselves and us, the people they love most. I was in a headlock yesterday. If (my sons) have the medication they need, we can live a somewhat functional, typical life. It is terrifying to see a little kid beating the crap out of their mom.”
CBD Oil as a Treatment for Autism
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Arno Kroner, DAOM, LAc, is a board-certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and integrative medicine doctor practicing in Santa Monica, California.
Cannabidiol , sometimes called CBD, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. Since it does not include THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, CBD does not induce a “high.” It can, however, help to reduce anxiety and lower stress levels—symptoms that are common among people with autism.
Currently, there is some evidence that CBD can help to alleviate specific symptoms and improve behavior in children and adults on the autism spectrum, but research into the safety and efficacy of CBD is in its earliest stages.
CBD can be derived from hemp or cannabis (the marijuana plant) and is now legal in many states in the United States and in many countries around the world. It can be purchased without a prescription as an oil, tincture, pill, or chewable pill online and is also an ingredient in edibles ranging from coffee to pastries. It comes in many dosages and at many price points.
Claims for CBD range from the realistic to the absurd. Some websites and companies claim, for example, that CBD can cure cancer (it can’t). On the other hand, CBD does seem to alleviate some untractable symptoms of disorders such as epilepsy, sleeplessness, and anxiety—all common issues for people with autism. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.”
In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases, it was able to stop them altogether. Recently, the FDA approved the first-ever cannabis-derived medicine for these conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD. CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.”
CBD is not helpful for everyone who uses it, and, in rare cases, it can cause side effects such as sleepiness or nausea.
How CBD May Help People With Autism
Neither CBD nor any other drug can remove or cure core symptoms of autism, which include social communication challenges, sensory dysfunction, and restricted, repetitive behaviors. CBD can, however, help to alleviate disorders often associated with autism such as epilepsy, anxiety, sleeplessness, and stress.
By relieving the associated disorders, CBD may help reduce some of the most problematic aspects of autism.
For example, it may cause better sleep and lower anxiety (which can reduce aggressive behaviors), fewer seizures (which can lessen stress and make it easier to interact socially), and lower anxiety to make it easier to learn and use social communication skills.
It’s also important to note that sleeplessness and aggression are particularly difficult symptoms for parents, who can quickly find themselves exhausted and overwhelmed. Aggression, in particular, is one of the most challenging behaviors common to autism—oftentimes, this is a reason a parent may place their child with autism in an institutional setting.
A few full-scale studies have explored the impact of CBD on children with autism—none, however, have explored its impact on adults on the spectrum. One of the largest such studies took place in Israel. The report includes the following finding:
“In 2014, The Ministry of Health began providing licenses for the treatment of children with epilepsy. After seeing the results of cannabis treatment on symptoms like anxiety, aggression, panic, tantrums and self-injurious behavior, in children with epilepsy, parents of severely autistic children turned to medical cannabis for relief.”
The results of the study were encouraging. Most of the children involved saw improvement in anxiety, anger, and hyperactivity.
In addition (and perhaps as a result), they also saw significant improvements in social communication, sleep, and self-injury (a small percentage, however, worsened with treatment). A tremendous bonus is the fact that there were few side effects, and those that did appear (sleepiness and change in appetite) were mild.
Additional studies have provided similar results: CBD has proved to be helpful in a majority of cases in lessening emotional and behavioral issues and can even help to improve social communication skills. These preliminary findings, along with the low incidence of significant side effects, are very encouraging. Studies are ongoing in clinics and research centers around the world.
Before Trying CBD
Given all of the positive findings for CBD and the low risk associated with it, it may make sense to try using it with your child with autism (or trying it yourself if you are an adult with autism). Before buying a bottle of CBD oil, however, it’s important to follow these steps:
- Check with your child’s (or your) doctor to be sure that no allergies or sensitivities exist that could cause a reaction to CBD.
- Check to be sure that CBD is legal in your state, province, or country.
- Research sources of CBD to be sure the brand you’re using is well-regarded and properly licensed.
- Take careful notes to be sure you have baseline information about your child’s (or your own) behaviors and symptoms so that you can make a useful comparison before and after using CBD.
CBD comes in many forms and at many dosage levels. Oils taste somewhat bitter, which is why many people prefer chewable candy-like options; of course, it’s important to keep candy-like drugs and supplements out of the reach of children.
In general, it’s best to start with a lower dosage. In fact, studies of CBD for other disorders such as migraine suggest that a lower dose may be more effective.
Lower doses are also more easily tolerated than a higher dose.
When you start using any new supplement, drug, or treatment, it’s important to be sure your child’s doctor is aware of the new treatment and has no concerns about it relative to your child’s health as well as let everyone working with your child know that you’ve started something new and ask them to look for and report any changes in behaviors or skills.
Take careful notes of any changes you see yourself so you can easily review your records to determine how helpful the new treatment really is and keep an eye open for any troubling side effects. Be sure to communicate any side effects to a doctor or healthcare professional immediately.
A Word From Verywell
Children with autism grow and learn every day, simply because they are maturing. As a result, there is no simple way to determine whether a change in behavior or an increase in skills is due to a particular treatment or to ordinary maturation. This reality makes it very easy to see a change in behaviors and inaccurately attribute them to the newest treatment you’ve tried. By far, the best way to know whether a particular treatment is truly effective is to be rigorous about evaluating your child before and after its use.
To do this, you’ll need to create or find and use a numerical scale (1 to 5 for instance) to measure your child’s behavior. For example, is today’s angry outburst at a level 1 or a level 5? By carefully evaluating the impact of a new therapy, you can eliminate the likelihood that you’ll make decisions based on wishful thinking rather than on solid evidence.
Arizona mothers push for legal access to medical marijuana for kids with autism
Medical marijuana for children with autism- controversial or life-changing?
A group of valley mothers who have seen dramatic changes in their children after trying medical marijuana legally, are now taking their fight to the state legislature. The goal is to allow access to medical marijuana for children with Autism.
Arizona has 186 minors who can legally access medical marijuana right now, according to statistics posted on the Arizona department of health website. The list of qualifying conditions for a card include Epilepsy and cancer.
Moms fighting for change are hoping to add Autism to that list of qualifying conditions.
Brandi Williams and Erica Smith were able to become cardholders on behalf of their young children because, in addition to Autism, their children are also diagnosed with illnesses that are on the state’s list of qualifying conditions.
Brandi’s son Logan is autistic and also has Epilepsy. For years Williams had to deal with her child lashing out several times a day. Williams said it was heartbreaking to watch, and she worried for his safety.
“My son was banging his head 75-150 times a day on hard objects all over the house,” said Williams. She had documented video and pictures of the behavior and showed ABC15 photos of damaged walls and windows, caused by Logan banging his head against them.
She also showed us the bruises she suffered from her child repeatedly biting her.
“We got him on medical marijuana to get seizure control from his Epilepsy, but what we got was a lot more,” said Williams.
She showed ABC15 videos and pictures of Logan after medical marijuana and described her son as being happier, smiling more, being more focused, and socializing with friends and family members.
Erica Smith who’s child Enoch also has a long list of medical conditions, said her story was similar.
“The joy that it has brought to see my son smiling again and happy, I want other parents to have that opportunity,” said Smith.
Unlike Williams and Smith, east valley mom Cherie Higgins does not have the option of trying medical marijuana on her autistic children.
“People seem to be having success with medical marijuana so it is something we would like to try,” said Higgins.
All of these mothers tell ABC15 they have tried the whole merry-go-round of prescription pills and not seen any changes in their children. Some of the prescription drugs made their children have severe reactions, they made them lethargic, and unable to function. With medical marijuana, these parents said their children were more alert, focused, and able to participate in everyday life events.
The moms explained the medical marijuana they were administering to their children was in the form of paste, or extracts.
“All you need is a rice-sized grain of the paste, and I mix it in with his food,” explained Williams.
The children were not smoking joints or inhaling any type of smoke.
Because Autism is not on the list of qualifying conditions to get a medical marijuana card in Arizona, mothers like Higgins could face felony drug charges by giving it to their children.
It almost happened in 2014, in the case of a Mesa child named Zander Welton, a young child who suffered from a rare disease. To ease his suffering, his parents gave him medical marijuana extracts and say they saw a complete change in his personality.
Welton was happier and more responsive to his parents. The Welton’s had to stop giving extracts to Zander after then Maricopa County prosecutor Bill Montgomery threatened to file felony drug charges anyone using medical marijuana extracts. Not wanting to end up in jail, the Welton’s stopped.
Zander who began having seizures before his first birthday because of a condition called Cortical Dysplasia died at the age of 7.
Williams is part of the national group MAMMAS or Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism. According to the group, 14 states have now added Autism as a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana card. These include Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Iowa, Delaware, Minnesota, and Texas.
“Parents need a layer of protection. We don’t need a bunch of parents having CPS called and being arrested just because they’re trying to find relief for their children,” said Williams.
House Bill 2049 introduced by Diego Espinoza and Lorenzo Sierra would do that. Williams pleaded with lawmakers to give the bill a hearing.
Opponents of medical marijuana for children with Autism cite the lack of research showing it works, and what long term effects may be. Skeptics are concerned about the long term effects of THC on young children who are still developing.
Further studies are being conducted in the United States to assess medical marijuana’s effectiveness and safety for managing autism symptoms.
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