Mother Gives Son Marijuana to Treat His Autism

Can THC treat symptoms of ASD?

ByABC News via logo
November 23, 2009, 9:52 AM

Nov. 23, 2009— -- Given the many challenges involved in raising an autistic child, parents are willing to try a variety of potential remedies, many of which are controversial and unproven.

But one potential treatment that has gained attention recently is one that was controversial well before its first mention in connection with autism.

"At first I did some research, and I found a doctor who actually had a protocol for medical marijuana in children diagnosed with autism," Mieko Hester-Perez of Fountain Valley, Calif., told "Good Morning America."

Hester-Perez made her decision to try giving her 10-year-old son, Joey Perez, medical marijuana after his weight had become dangerously low due to his unwillingness to eat. She said that at the time she began the approach, he weighed only 46 pounds.

"You could see the bones in his chest. He was going to die," she said.

"The marijuana balanced my son," said Hester-Perez, noting that she has never used marijuana herself. "My son had self-injurious behaviors. He was extremely aggressive, he would run out of our house... he was a danger to himself and others."

But just hours after she gave him one of the pot-infused brownies, she said she could see a change -- both in his appetite and demeanor.

"Within hours, he requested foods we had never seen him eat before," said Hester-Perez.

She added that her son used to take a cocktail of medications, three times every day, for his condition. He now takes only three, and he has a marijuana brownie once every two or three days. He still cannot communicate verbally.

"I saved my son's life, and marijuana saved my son's life... When a mother hears that her son is knocking on death's door, you will do anything to save his life," said Hester-Perez.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that marijuana for children is something that draws concern even from parents within his advocacy organization.

"While there have been some people within NORML's ranks who remain put off by this, I think speaks to just how fearful some are [of marijuana]," he said.

And this reaction remains out of proportion to the possible risks from the drug, he said, noting 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.

"They probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow," St. Pierre said of parents' responses, "but because reefer madness has been so profound in the United States, that's one of the only things that makes it notable."

But some opposition to this type of treatment is medical concern.

"He is intoxicated. He's stoned," said Dr. Sharon Hirsch, a child psychiatrist at the University of Chicago. "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."