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Monday, November 9, 2009

Marijuana and Autism: The Ultimate HERBal Remedy?








Putting the "herb" back in herbal remedy ...

The ultimate herbal remedy: Can cannabis improve autism?

The debate over its risks has split political and scientific opinion in Britain. But American mother Marie Myung-Ok Lee says cannabis isn't only safe enough for her autistic son - it's dramatically improved his condition

My son, J, has autism. He's also had two serious operations for a spinal cord tumour and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us. He can say words, but many of them - "duck in the water, duck in the water", for instance - don't convey what he means. For a time, anti-inflammatory medication seemed to control his pain. But in the last year, it stopped working. He began to bite and to smack the glasses off my face. If you were in that much pain, you'd probably want to hit someone, too.

J's school called my husband and me in for a meeting about J's tantrums, which were affecting his ability to learn. The teachers were wearing Tae Kwon Do arm pads to protect themselves against his biting. Their solution was to hand us a list of child psychiatrists. As autistic children can't exactly do talk therapy, this meant using sedating, antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal.

Last year, Risperdal was prescribed for more than 389,000 children in the US - 240,000 of them under the age of 12 - for bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism and other disorders. Yet the drug has never been tested for long-term safety in children and carries a severe warning of side-effects. From 2000 to 2004, Risperdal, or one of five other popular drugs also classified as "atypical antipsychotics", was the "primary suspect" in 45 paediatric deaths, according to a review of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data by USA Today. When I canvassed parents of autistic children who take Risperdal, I didn't hear a single story of an improvement that seemed worth the risks. A 2002 study on the use of Risperdal for autism, in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed moderate improvements in "autistic irritation" - but the study followed only 49 children over eight weeks, which limits the inferences that can be drawn from it.

We met with J's doctor, who'd read the studies and agreed: No Risperdal or its kin. The school called us in again. What were we going to do, they asked. As an occasional health writer and blogger, I was intrigued when a homeopath suggested medical marijuana. Cannabis has long-documented effects as an analgesic and an anxiety modulator. Best of all, it is safe. The homeopath referred me to a publication by the Autism Research Institute describing cases of reduced aggression, with no permanent side- effects. Rats given 40 times the psychoactive level merely fall sleep. Dr Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has been researching cannabis for 40 years, says he has yet to encounter a case of marijuana causing a death, even from lung cancer.

A prescription drug called Marinol, which contains a synthetic cannabinoid, seemed mainstream enough to bring up with J's doctor. I cannot say that with a few little pills everything turned around. But after about a week of fiddling with the dosage, J began garnering a few glowing school reports: "J was a pleasure have in speech class," instead of "J had 300 aggressions today."

But J tends to build tolerance to synthetics, and in a few months we could see the aggressive behaviour coming back. One night, I went to the meeting of a medical marijuana patient advocacy group on the campus of the college where I teach. The patients told me that Marinol couldn't compare to marijuana, the plant, which has at least 60 cannabinoids to Marinol's one.

[FULL ARTICLE here. The Independent: The ultimate herbal remedy: Can cannabis improve autism?]

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