What if Medicinal Marijuana is the Missing Puzzle Piece?

Disclosure :: New Orleans Moms Blog seeks to honor the voices of all moms living in Louisiana. We understand and respect that this is controversial topic, but we ask that you read Brynn’s perspective to seek understanding and – should you desire to weigh in – that you engage respectfully.

HB 627: Adding Autism as a Qualifying Condition for the Use of Medical Marijuana

Marijuana, it can be a very controversial topic. Think of what comes to mind when the word is said out loud. Some may get embarrassed, others may think the word is wrong, especially when focusing on the illegal qualities the plant encompasses. One thing that can often comes to mind is the “lazy pothead” that has been portrayed in movies for years, and I’ll almost guarantee most individuals will assume marijuana is only consumed by smoking the plant.

Now, let’s switch our focus to Medicinal Marijuana. It doesn’t seem as frightening, or wrong, when an individual with qualifying conditions uses the plant to give them better quality of life. Some might argue that individuals could lie about particular ailments to lay around and “smoke weed erry day,” like Snoop Dog. Well, I’m here to assure you, this is false.

The different levels of the Autism Spectrum

medicinal marijuanaNow, I would like to focus on the topic of Autism. Most of us probably know a friend or family member who has a child on the Autism Spectrum. They are probably super smart and can be quirky, yet funny. They might even have some mild behavioral issues. This particular person that has Autism is on the “Higher Functioning” side of the spectrum. My first born was diagnosed with this, but this blog will not be about those awesome kids on the spectrum.

I hate to admit it, but I always thought a person was either mentally or physically impaired or not. I had no clue there was a thing called Autism until my first child was diagnosed with it, and I for sure did not know there were a number of ways a person can be placed on the Autism Spectrum. Not until my second child.

My second, Parker, was a seemingly normal baby. She hit all of her physical and mental developmental marks right on cue. Her first word was clap at 8 months just like her brother. She cooed, she mimicked others, danced, played peek-a-boo, even spoke in small sentences (ex: I want dada, I want hot dog [Mickey], even sang the hot dog song). Then at 22 months, my developing child’s bright light was sucked from her body. I felt robbed. She stopped talking, started flapping, ate non-food items like sand, rocks, and dirt, stopped smiling at us and the camera, took her poop diapers off and smeared it all over my cream wall (so fun cleaning that up). I brought her to my son’s psychologist and after an evaluation, I was told what my gut already knew. Parker was diagnosed with level 2 on the Autism Spectrum Disorders, which is a developmental disorder. Level 2 meant she was on the low-functioning side. Immediately, I did what all of us Autism mammas do … I went into the maternal guilt trip. I thought, “I went to my OB appointments on time, I took my prenatal vitamins, I didn’t eat tuna, I didn’t shoot up heroin or smoke crack! Why on Earth is this happening again? And why is it so severe?”

So how does marijuana and Autism correlate?

Let me paint a mental picture of what a severely debilitated Autistic child goes through on a daily basis. From the time they wake up (after minimal sleep from night terrors), their brains are on overdrive. This happens due to something called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). It usually goes hand in hand with Autism. SPD causes their brains to process their 5 senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) in a way that can wreck havoc on their bodies. For example, vacuum usage to us neurotypicals (non-Autistic) is a simple humming sound. To someone on the spectrum, it can feel like needles piercing their brains and give them debilitating anxiety. This can happen with any type of sensory stimulation. There are also 2 types of SPD – sensory seekers and sensory avoiders; I was lucky enough to get one of each. So whenever we watch a family movie with an intense scene, one is covering their ears, screaming while the other flapping their hands in excitement.

The endless cycle of stimming

Speaking of flapping, this is a form of stimming. We’ve all seen a child flapping their hands in what seems to be uncontrollable excitement. For some that may be the case, but for those on the Autism spectrum, it is a way to release tension when there is an overload of certain sensory stimuli. This is the only way to release the overload and helps them process it properly. Here is where medical marijuana enters the picture, in one of many ways, for those with Autism. Stimming is repetitive and sometimes it can be unhealthy and dangerous. Some of the more harmful stims include (but are not limited to): banging their heads against the wall, severe biting, hair pulling, cutting, biting fingernails off. The stronger the sensory overload. the more dangerous the stim. While trying to receive relief from the strong sensory overload, they are causing self harm, which is another sensory overload. The cycle can seem endless and possibly life-threatening.

Not only are there self harmful forms of stimming, but children on the spectrum can also cause destruction to people, things, and property. I can’t tell you how many times my daughter has found a seam on pillows or blankets and completely unraveled it. Some children bang holes in the walls, bite wooden banisters, have bitten their caregivers, the list is pretty extensive. Marijuana (in the form of THC oil, spray, pill or patch) will stop the assault of sensory stimuli and help calm the brain of a person with Autism.

Most normally developing children love to be around their peers. They also love having conversations, and showing adults what they’ve learned; not highly challenged Autistic children. Most of them avoid their peers like the plague and will dart, especially if their peer has an unpleasant sensory stimuli. When I say dart, I don’t mean to the next table. I mean to the next block or to a place that can cause them harm, or even death. 90% of non-verbal Autistic children that wander off are found in water. I was lucky enough to catch my daughter before she was hit at a busy intersection in Lakeview.

Speaking of conversating, there is none with extreme cases of Autism. If you’re lucky to break through with sign language or an iPad that has an app that will talk for them, it takes hours of therapy and repetition to achieve that goal. Medicinal Marijuana has been shown to help the non-verbal child on the spectrum find their voice.

Most might think, won’t parents just use their child is an excuse to obtain THC and get high? Listen, our children have severe behavioral and physical deficits that hinder their ability to lead a normal life. A patient cannot simply fake what they are doing, and any professional can see straight through a junkie trying to use their child to get a fix. Most of us mamas have been with our pediatricians, psychologist, and specialists for years, just praying for something like Medicinal Marijuana to come into our lives. I am in no way looking for an easy way out by treating my child with Medicinal Marijuana. Parker has received speech therapy and occupational therapy, neither of which worked. She is currently receiving 40 hours of Applied Behavior Analysis every week (which is very difficult to get into due to extremely long wait lists). Every one of us has done everything possible: numerous therapies, bought hyperbaric chambers, given acupuncture, done genetic and mineral testing, used every essential oil the Earth can provide. Marijuana has been the only medicine, proof positive to not give debilitating side effects, and possibly open that locked door in the brain of a severely autistic person.

There are two pharmaceutical drugs the FDA has approved to treat to the extreme behaviors of autism, Risperdal and Abilify. Of these two medications, the most severe side effect includes death. Marijuana is nonlethal and its side effects aren’t nearly as dangerous as the two drugs the FDA has to offer. We all have specific chemical systems in our brains, such as serotonin, dopamine, and endocannabinoids. When a doctor feels a patient is lacking serotonin, the diagnosis is normally anxiety and is treated properly. When a doctor believes a patient is lacking dopamine, a doctor would normally diagnose depression and treat it properly. It has been proven that children with Autism lack certain transmitters in their body’s endocannabinoid system, cannabis or marijuana, is the perfect solution to help increase those transmitters and quell Autism’s negative effects.

The slogan for Autism is “until all the puzzle pieces fit.” What if this amazing plant, marijuana, is the missing puzzle piece?

HB 627 is a bill that will add Autism as a qualifying condition for the use of Medicinal Marijuana. I am a member of Louisiana Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (LA MAMMA), and I support passing this bill to law. It has already been approved in Louisiana House of Representatives with 71 YEAS to 21 NAYS. The next step is the Health and Wellness Committee in the Senate (they are meeting possibly within the next week) and then a vote on the Senate floor.

If you personally feel so compelled, you can also call your Senator in support of HB 627.

Those diagnosed with Autism need this medicine to have the opportunity to lead a calm and peaceful life.

About Brynn Strahan

Brynn Strahan has lived in New Orleans since she was 4. She went to St Pius X, Cabrini High School and UNO. She married her husband Troy in 2008, and he owns two local companies Associated Building Services and LA Design and Build. They have a son Hayden, born in July of 2009 who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2013 and a daughter Parker, born in November 2013 who diagnosed with congenital glaucoma at birth. When her two little munchkins aren’t keeping her busy, she’s running around for her husband as his unofficial personal assistant. They currently call Lakeview home.

About Katelyn Castleberry (founder of LA MAMMA)

Katelyn, born in New Olreans and mom of two autistic boys, left her place of employment in 2013 to provide the level of care her two autistic children need. She decided to start LA MAMMAs when she realized no one else was asking if Autism could be a qualifying condition for Medicinal Marijuana. She knew there were other families in need, but had no idea just how many were affected. The public support has been overwhelming as has the support from our lawmakers.
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