Marijuana Brownies: A New Treatment for Autism?

November 30, 2009

If there's one thing that pediatricians and parents can agree on, it's that raising an autistic child can be extremely challenging. With that in mind, it's no surprise that parents are willing to try almost anything to improve the life of their child.

If there’s one thing that pediatricians and parents can agree on, it’s that raising an autistic child can be extremely challenging. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that parents are willing to try almost anything to improve the life of their child. Mieko Hester-Perez falls into this category and recently resorted to giving her 10-year-old son, Joey, medical marijuana after his weight dropped to 46 pounds because of his unwillingness to eat. Hester-Perez claimed that she “did some research, and I found a doctor who actually had a protocol for medical marijuana in children diagnosed with autism,” which led her to trying the remedy herself. Describing her son, she said “You could see the bones in his chest. He was going to die.” In addition to his refusal to eat, Joey also displayed self-injurious behavior and, according to Hester-Perez, was a “danger to himself and others.”

Hester-Perez, desperate and seeking any treatment that might benefit her son, gave him a pot-infused brownie. Within hours after consuming the brownie, Hester-Perez said she saw a change in Joey’s appetite and demeanor; he seemed to calm down and began requesting foods he had never eaten before. Although he still cannot communicate verbally, Hester-Perez told reporters that he is now down to just three medications a day, whereas prior to the marijuana brownies, he was taking 13 medications each day.

Although Hester-Perez claims that marijuana has saved her son’s life, researchers are still hesitant to support this case study. Dr. Sharon Hirsch, a child psychiatrist at the University of Chicago, is one healthcare professional who cautions against this type of treatment. “He is intoxicated. He's stoned. It means that he's under the influence of a drug and may have an addiction. It can cause psychosis, may lead to schizophrenia. [There's] no evidence at all at this time and no reason to prescribe any kind of marijuana for a child with autism.”

On the other side of the argument, Allen St. Pierre, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that the stigmas associated with marijuana causes a reaction that remains out of proportion to the actual risks of the drug. Pierre said that “just as some children are given doses of medical marijuana in more regulated settings, children can be given controlled doses of strong drugs such as amphetamines or opioids without drawing as much opposition.”

Hester-Perez is just one of many parents who have taken this approach and touted their results. However, the long-term effects and side effects that may be associated with this type of treatment are yet to be determined. That is why Hester-Perez recently appeared on Good Morning America — she wants to raise awareness about this treatment and is hopeful that more research will be conducted. Once again, the stigmas associated with marijuana have made it difficult to garner the funding to conduct this research.

If there’s one word that’s synonymous with autism, it is “controversy.” The suggestion that children’s vaccines play a role in causing autism, something that has never been scientifically proven, has often plagued the relationship between physicians and parents. Now, with the suggestion that medical marijuana might improve the condition of autistic children, there’s another controversial debate in the world of autism.

Do you think that more research should be done to find out the risks and benefits of medical marijuana and autism? Or do you think that more research on this subject is a waste of time and funding? Would you consider recommending medical marijuana to an autistic child?