Children with autism could soon be prescribed medical marijuana

- The Minnesota Department of Health is considering adding autism to the growing list of conditions in which the patients can be prescribed medical cannabis.

The consideration carries with it a lot of emotion for families looking for something to help their loved ones with a condition where so little is known.

In a life full of uncertainty, Kammy Krammer is sure of one thing: medical cannabis helps her autistic son, Elliot, in profound way. But 15-year-old Elliott's autism is not why he's allowed under state law to take it.

“Elliott suffered from debilitating anxiety and that affected every aspect of his life,” Kammy told Fox 9. “He had hundreds of tics every single day and was suffering with peer relationships because of that. He was embarrassed and he couldn't control them."

Kammy said Elliot started using medical cannabis July 1, 2015 – the first day it was legal in Minnesota – to help manage his Tourette syndrome. He had an immediate 90 percent reduction in tics, but his mom also started to notice it was also helpful for many of the side effects related to autism.

Tourette’s, not autism, is one of a handful of conditions in Minnesota where medical cannabis can be administered.

Now, the DOH is considering adding autism to the list, but in that consideration, they really only have anecdotal evidence from parents like Kammy and kids like Elliott that it actually works, creating a degree of "uncertainty" around an already mysterious condition with no cure.

Autism is the result of alterations in how the brain processes information which then alters how the mind sees the world. For someone with autism, that often means communication problems, social challenges and repetitive behaviors.

As for how it's leaning on the decision, the DOH issued a statement saying the process needs to take its course before we comment on specific proposals. The state's medical cannabis review panel will report on the public health benefits and risks of any proposed medical conditions by Nov. 1.

Jonah Weinberg is the director of the Autism Society of Minnesota. He says parents are challenged daily to find something that works for their child. But, giving cannabis, even the medical kind, needs to be considered carefully.

“What we hope is that they are approached reasonably, that they're approached methodically and that it's not just anecdotal evidence,” Weinberg said. “That one family says, ‘Oh, this worked for my child,” because a case study of one does not mean anything in the long term.”

On the "anecdotal evidence" side, Elliott shines. A year on medical cannabis for his Tourette’s and the subsequent effect on his autism have allowed him to be mainstreamed at school and he is now running on the Eagan High School cross country team.

While he is a young man of few words, Elliot told Fox 9 being a part of the simplest of teenage things makes him feel whole.

A year ago, Kammy could not have imagined her son attending a high school football game or running with his teammates on the track. Now, she wants that for other kids like Elliot.

“I believe it is worth fighting for because I know Elliott is not alone. I know that there are other kiddos with autism and their families and believe it should be their option to explore,” Kammy said.

In addition to autism, the department of health is considering things like arthritis, depression, diabetes, insomnia and PTSD as conditions that should be allowed to be treated with medical cannabis. A decision on whether to add autism or conditions will likely come next month.

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