Can medical cannabis help kids with autism?

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April is World Autism Month, an opportunity to increase global understanding and acceptance of people with autism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls and early intervention gives the best opportunity to support healthy development into adulthood.

Amanda Harryman saw signs early on with her son Jeremy. She said as a baby he was very stiff and needed physical therapy to stretch himself out.

“That was the beginning of our journey,” said Harryman.

Jeremy was diagnosed with autism at age two. Back then, Harryman said it was easier to restrain her son because he was small. Now, at age 14 and standing five foot eleven, there are new challenges. She says he becomes aggressive and exhibits self-injurious behavior like hitting his head.

“I felt so alone, like you know, you go through that as an autism parent, you have no one to reach out to,” said Harryman. “It gets overwhelming sometimes.”

Two years ago Harryman decided to explore medical cannabis for Jeremy when she noticed other medications weren’t working and the side effects were becoming worse. She said Jeremy would shake uncontrollably.

“Since we started, we figured out a dose of CBD kind of combats the shaking,” said Harryman who also credits cannabis for Jeremy’s improved sleeping pattern and ability to eliminate other medications.

Harryman wants other parents to know their options.

“A lot of people are afraid of the stigma that comes with it,” she said.

Dr. David Berger of Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care says he has treated thousands of children with autism. He’s prescribed some medical cannabis, including Jeremy.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s about weighing the risk versus benefit and especially if nothing else is working, it’s fair to give it a try,” said Berger, who thinks more research is needed to understand the root cause of autism and the role of the endocannabinoid system.

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