By Alan Lyndon
There’s a stigma attached to medical marijuana, particularly if a parent is giving it to their child. But this type of marijuana is not about sneaking behind the high school to get high — it’s a life altering treatment for children with extreme cases of autism.
Noa Shulman is a 17-year-old girl living with a severe form of autism. She is participating in the world’s first trial to test the benefits of medicinal marijuana for young people with autism.
Noa lives in Israel, which, in 1992, was one of the first countries to permit the use of medical marijuana.
“Israel leads the world in inquiries and studies on cannabis as a potential medical treatment,” Dr. Alan Shackelford recently told USA Today.
On some days since entering the trial, Noa is calm. On other days, she is aggressive and irritable. Study participants are given liquid drops — either a cannabis oil or a placebo. The drops do not result in a typical high from smoking a joint because of low levels of THC, which is marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient.
Noa’s mother does not know if Noa is receiving the marijuana or a placebo.
Back in the U.S., Leo is a 12 year old boy with an extreme form of autism that is “like ADHD times 1,000,” says his mother Erica. “He can’t stop moving. It’s self-stimulating behavior — arms flailing, nonfunctional vocalization.”
Leo lives in Pennsylvania, which legalized medical marijuana in 2016 but is still at least a year away from implementing the law and making it available to patients. In the meantime, 226 Safe Harbor letters have been administered under the Medical Marijuana Act to patients under 18 who suffer from one of the seventeen serious medical conditions including autism.
Even though Leo has one of those letters, “there’s a stigma,” Erica told the Philadelphia Daily News. “Oh my God, people are thinking my kid is taking marijuana! It’s important to educate people. It’s like you would give liquid drops of Motrin,” she says.
For Leo, the treatment has resulted in fewer tantrums, lessened anxiety and improved speech. His mother reports that Leo’s quality of life “has improved dramatically.”