Many Christian conservatives are pushing to get their autistic children on marijuana. Parents with children with autism know the heartache that often accompanies the disorder. It can be particularly stressful when an autistic child exhibits violent outbursts that put everyone in danger, including the child.
With nothing to lose, a growing number of these parents allowed their autistic children to try marijuana, usually not smoking it, but in other forms, such as a time-released patch. Surprisingly, they learned the drug helps stabilize their autistic child's behavior in a way nothing else can.
"We are the most unlikely people to be doing this," AmyLou Fawell, a co-founder and executive director of MAMMA, which stands for Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, told Vice.
Believe it or not, their group actually blossomed from a Bible study in Austin, Texas. That was three years ago. Now MAMMA has chapters in 12 states, plus one for military families. Their goal is to get laws changed, making it legal for people with autism to be treated with marijuana for medical purposes. Fawell has seen first hand how marijuana has improved her son's behavior and says, "If God made it, and our bodies need it, then that is the Christian argument."
Currently eight states allow marijuana for recreational use. 28 states allow marijuana for medical purposes, but often that does not include autism.
Right now, most of the evidence supporting the effectiveness of marijuana to treat autism is circumstatial, not scientific. The success stories, and there are a lot of them, are limited to personal testimonies of parents who have seen dramatic improvements in the behavior of their autistic children.
Some parents take a great risk revealing their stories, because it involves admitting they broke the law.
For instance, the Zartler family Facebook page shows a video of an autistic teenaged girl screaming and repeatedly hitting herself in the head. The caption tells us she can't stop hurting herself and her behavior continues for hours. Then after just three minutes of being treated with vaporized marijuana the teen is calmly rocking in a chair. The Zartlers live in Dallas, Texas, where medical marijuana for autism is outlawed. Not long after releasing the video, Child Protective Services visited the family. "My first fear was that they were going to try and remove her and put her in foster care," said the teen's mother, who is a part of MAMMA. CPS confirmed the family is being investigated; a spokesperson called it a "complicated situation."
There are many stories like that.
Lisa Helt, a conservative Christian, recalls the despair over her autistic son's destructive behavior. Among other things, he plunged himself onto a glass table, bloodying his head. He also attacked her, clawing at her face and pinning her to the ground. She exhausted all therapy and prescription drug options, except marijuana. That's because the Helts lived in a state where medical marijuana is illegal for the treatment of autism. So she took her son to Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal. There, she bought the marijuana, gave it to her autistic son, and was amazed at his improvement. After a week, it was time to go back home. Although she knew she was breaking the law, she bought a stockpile of marijuana and took it with her, to give it to her son later.
Texas minister Matthew J. Cox said his staunchly anti-marijuana posture is beginning to soften. "Maybe there is a use for marijuana, that there is a plan for this," he said, adding, "I can't believe it would be worse than the prescription psychotropic drugs they are giving children today."