Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jun 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Lisa Smith is outspoken about the good effect that medical marijuana 
has on the symptoms of her son Noah's autism. She's so passionate 
about it that she spoke at a public hearing before the state 
committee charged with making recommendations on adding qualifying 
conditions under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

Actually, there may not have been hearings had it not been for Smith. 
A couple of years ago the committee voted against autism as a 
qualifying condition, and once they do that the issue is usually not 
revisited. But after seeing the effect that marijuana had on her 
son's autism after she used it to treat his epilepsy, Smith sued the 
state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), which 
oversees medical marijuana certifications, to force the office to 
take another look at it.

"My physician knows that I use this for my son, and he said as long 
as it's helping him he's all for it," says Smith, a single mother.

Noah, now 5, was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome when he was 2. It's 
the form of epilepsy brought to public attention in Dr. Sanjay 
Gupta's "Weed" program on CNN. Noah's days were filled with seizures, 
and he didn't respond to conventional medications. He even had a 
vagal nerve stimulator implanted. The device sends electrical 
impulses to the brain in an attempt to control seizures.

"If he does have a seizure, you swipe a magnet and it should stop the 
seizure," Smith says. "Sometimes it works, sometimes not."

Noah's case is more complicated because he is also autistic. Not only 
did he have seizures on a daily basis, but his self-destructive and 
violent behavior was a problem. He pulled his hair and ran into 
walls; sometimes he would punch and kick his mother. He wasn't making 
developmental advances.

Desperate for something to help, Smith began researching and found 
other parents who were successfully treating their children with 
marijuana. Using marijuana to treat epilepsy, particularly with 
children, is a new frontier that is not well-understood. But autism 
itself is not well-understood, and the idea of treating it with 
marijuana is even sketchier. Most of the states that allow medical 
marijuana have epilepsy or seizures as a qualifying condition. None 
of them list autism as a qualifying condition.

Pushed against the wall in early 2013, Smith began searching online 
for something she could do for her son. She found anecdotal testimony 
from other parents who were using marijuana.

"I was tired of my son declining; there was a lot of regression," she 
says. "We were running out of options. I had to do something to save 
him and bring my boy back."

Michigan allows medical marijuana to treat epilepsy, so Noah 
qualified. In November 2013 his treatment with Rick Simpson Oil, an 
extraction of marijuana cannabinoids, changed their lives. The number 
of seizures dropped dramatically, and the few he has are less severe. 
Surprisingly the symptoms of his autism improved too.

"He calmed down quite a bit, started to refocus, and regain skills," 
says Smith. "He used to have a really bad oral sensory problem that 
has decreased considerably. He is able to sit at the table and do 
puzzles and follow directions. He's more alert, more focused."

The violent behaviors stopped. And the quality of their lives improved.

"Life is less stressful and more enjoyable because I'm seeing my 
little boy come back," says Smith. "I'm watching him grow and develop 
rather than regress."

Smith stays in communication with other parents who treat their 
children with marijuana, sharing information, comparing methods and 
results. One of her vehicles for that is They need 
each other, medical marijuana is new, and we're not exactly sure 
where it fits into our society. And giving it to children hits a raw 
nerve in some.

Smith and her son are part of a rare breed in Michigan. There are 
fewer than 200 children younger than 18 certified for medical 
marijuana use in the state. It requires the signatures of two doctors 
and a parent. Though there are so few child patients, they take up a 
lot of attention on the drafting of laws. Everybody wants to keep it 
away from the children. Their parents face a tough fight with social 
perceptions, lack of medical certainty, and legal issues. But when 
they see how their children's lives have improved, these parents are 
ready to do whatever it takes.

"Parents need to be persistent with the doctors if they want to go 
this route," says Smith.

Noah's case runs a little contrary to the narrative on medical 
marijuana for epilepsy. Most folks are seeking strains of marijuana 
with high CBD and low THC. CBD and THC are two of the dozens of 
compounds in marijuana known as cannabinoids. They interact with 
receptors in the human body. The strain that Noah uses is a little 
higher in THC than in CBD.

"Noah seems to do a little bit better with a higher THC content," 
says Smith. "That's what I've found so far."

What Smith, who says she does not use marijuana for herself, has seen 
in Noah has made her a little bit of a reluctant activist.

"Lisa Smith is an incredible person," says Dave Brogren, director of 
a group called Cannabis Patients United and who sits on the state 
board that recommends new conditions for medical marijuana. "She 
brought a lawsuit against LARA. It's really quite brave of these 
parents to come forward. All these parents who came forward were 
really breaking the law and could face the wrath of child protective 
services or aggressive policemen."

But what wouldn't you do for your kids.
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