Last year, 12-year-old Ryan Mendoza's obsessive compulsive disorder became so bad, his mother said, that his triggers -- the wind and spotting the number "6" -- would drive him to have crippling and violent meltdowns.
Completely incapacitated by his disorder, the boy was not responding to numerous drug therapies and he became despondent, said Judy Mendoza. On one occasion, when she pulled into her driveway, Ryan ran out of the house, threw himself on the hood of her car, and begged her to kill him, she recalled.
"I want you to run me down," she said he told her. "I don't want to live anymore. I don't want to live with this OCD anymore.'"
Determined to do anything she could to relieve her son's suffering, Mendoza said she finally decided to resort to a radical option -- medical marijuana.
Mendoza could consider this controversial course of treatment because she lives in California, one of 14 states where the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal when recommended by a doctor.
"My first gut reaction was, 'Oh, my God. [Giving my child marijuana] seems really out there,'" she said. "That seems drastic."
Yet Mendoza felt she had exhausted all of the other options available to help her son. Even anti-psychotic medications did not work. Her decision came down to one question: "What do I really have to lose?"
Rather than smoke the drug, children who are prescribed medical marijuana take a form of the herb that hardly resembles the mixture of dried leaves, stems and seeds typically smoked by marijuana users.
Instead, the drug is infused into butters or breads, or concentrated in liquid form, called a "tincture," that can be placed under the tongue for more rapid effect.
When Ryan Mendoza first was diagnosed with pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infections, or PANDAS, a rare auto-immune disorder that causes severe OCD, Judy Mendoza never imagined she would rely on medicinal marijuana for her son's well-being.
She first considered it after watching a "Good Morning America" segment about another mother who resorted to medical marijuana to save her young son's life.
Mieko Hester-Perez's 11-year-old son, Joey, suffers from autism. His weight had dropped to a mere 46 pounds after he started refusing to eat, his mother said. He'd become aggressive and was hurting himself, she added. After watching the boy's health deteriorate, Hester-Perez gave him a pot-laced brownie.
For more than a year now, Joey has been taking medical marijuana regularly and, according to his mother, he has made remarkable improvements. Where before he was hostile and dangerous, his mother said, after taking the marijuana he relaxed, made sounds for the first time and gained 38 pounds. His medication regime also dropped from 13 to three drugs daily.
"I saved my son's life -- and marijuana saved my son's life," said Hester-Perez. "When a mother hears that her son is knocking on death's door, you will do anything to save his life."
Classified as an illegal drug, marijuana has not been subjected to any double-blind medical studies -- the scientific gold standard for drug testing -- to prove its effectiveness in treating either autism or OCD.
The effects marijuana has on the developing brain are not yet fully known.