One in every 68 children in the United States is now affected by autism, and the number of kids coping with the developmental disorder has been increasing at an explosive rate in recent years. With onset most common during infancy and early childhood, autism can impact social and communication skills and may cause repetitive or compulsive behaviors, among other manifestations.
Now, fresh evidence again frowns upon U.S. federal prohibition of cannabis — listed as a Schedule I dangerous substance of no potential medical use, alongside heroin — which could be depriving ailing children the chance for treatment, and hope for a better-adjusted future.
In contrast to its staunch U.S. ally, Israel has approached the cannabis plant as the medicinal healer it has more than proven to be — medical marijuana was first approved in Israel decades ago, in 1992, making it one of the first in the world to do so.
As USA Today notes, in a recent article titled, Marijuana may be a miracle treatment for children with autism, Israel and just two other countries — Canada and the Netherlands — have government-sponsored medical marijuana programs available to citizens.
As USA Today reports:
When Noa Shulman came home from school, her mother, Yael, sat her down to eat, then spoon-fed her mashed sweet potatoes — mixed with cannabis oil.
Noa, who has a severe form of autism, started to bite her own arm. “No sweetie,” Yael gently told her 17-year-old daughter. “Here, have another bite of this.”
Noa is part of the first clinical trial in the world to test the benefits of medicinal marijuana for young people with autism, a potential breakthrough that would offer relief for millions of afflicted children — and their anguished parents.
Because of the notorious, if not nefarious, American war on drugs irresponsibly focuses on the cannabis plant as a dangerous substance sans redeeming medical value, research here lags exponentially behind other nations — unnecessary red tape, regulations, laws, and restrictions make procuring clearance for scientific study a somewhat odious hurdle.
To wit, the Food and Drug Administration — which, incidentally, oversees the drug warriors of the DEA — has thus far only approved two antipsychotic pharmaceuticals for the treatment of symptoms of autism. Both of those come replete with a host of serious and untenable side effects — making the choice to treat a difficult one, at best.
Israeli researchers, unbound by the absurdities of the drug war, began a new study in January at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, comprised of 120 children ranging in age from five to 29 years, who have been diagnosed with mild to severe autism.
Study participants are given one of two cannabis oil treatments or a placebo, drops of which can be mixed into a meal — none contain high levels of THC, the ingredient which gives users a ‘high.’
“Adi Aran, the pediatric neurologist leading the study, said nearly all the participants previously took antipsychotics and nearly half responded negatively. Yael desperately pushed Aran and other doctors to prescribe cannabis oil after a news report aired about a mother who illegally obtained it for her autistic son and said it was the only thing that helped him,” USA Today reports.
Myriad scientific studies and innumerable anecdotal cases have proven cannabis to treat everything from PTSD to ADHD, various cancers to the painful pressure of glaucoma — but the plant’s miraculous quality has been most apparent in treating severe seizures of childhood epilepsy.
Now, it appears, cannabis — specifically, the non-psychoactive compound, cannabidiol or CBD — may offer improved quality of life for children with autism, and the families providing their care.
“Many parents were asking for cannabis for their kids,” Aran told USA Today. “First I said, ‘No, there’s no data to support cannabis for autism, so we can’t give it to you.’”
Doubt quickly lifted, however, after multiple studies championed cannabis in the treatment of childhood epilepsy and in reducing the severity of symptoms of autism. Aran points out 30 percent of children with autism are also afflicted with epilepsy.
In an observational study, the doctor found 70 patients with autism experienced positive results from cannabis — so the clinical trial was launched for in-depth study.
Where Israel provides hope for families of children with various ailments with government-sponsored cannabis care, parents in the United States are forced to grapple with a patchwork of laws and regulations. Packing up a house of belongings to flee draconian marijuana laws for life-saving cannabis treatment has become commonplace to the point such families are now deemed, in all seriousness, medical refugees.
As long as cannabis prohibition remains in effect — an overwhelming likelihood, given the profiteering possible at every level of the system, from police departments to courts to for-profit prisons, and so on — children and adults will needlessly suffer without the healing powers of a substance that couldn’t get anyone high.
One-hundred-ten clinical trials of cannabis are currently underway in Israel — and although there may be many in the U.S., research primarily focuses on the treatment of addiction and related issues.