Mieko Hester-Perez is convinced marijuana saved her child’s life. Just six months ago her son, Joey, a 10-year-old with severe autism, weighed just 46 pounds. He stopped eating after the medications he had been taking to control his behavior took away his appetite, according to the Orange County, Calif., mom. “You could see the bones in his chest and in his arms and legs,”
Hester-Perez says. “He had stopped walking and he would bruise very easily.” But it was medical marijuana, an unorthodox treatment for autism that’s been the center of debate recently, which got her child eating again and changed his life for the better, she says. It was not a decision she made lightly. “I decided to try medical marijuana truly after I exhausted every other treatment,” Hester-Perez says. About five years ago Joey began exhibiting behaviors typical of children with severe autism—he would hit himself, bang on walls, and throw anything he could get his hands on. “He was very unpredictable,” she says, so much so that she shied away from inviting company over or taking Joey to someone else’s house. “I could no longer socialize with friends or family due to his behavior.”
Hester-Perez tried behavior modification, a gluten-free, casein-free diet, and over 13 different medications with limited success, she says. While some of the medicines managed to reduce Joey’s outbursts, the results were fleeting, according to the mother. “The effects of the medication were temporary. It seems like every three weeks we were either changing the doses or changing the medication, which is normal, but that took a toll on his body,” she says.
When speaking about her decision to treat her son with medical marijuana, Hester-Perez said, “My stance was pro-life… my son needed a better quality of life if he was going to perish from these medications used to treat autism.” Ultimately, armed with the research she had collected, she met with Joey’s psychiatrist to discuss using medical marijuana to treat his condition. “The decision was made between me and his psychiatrist. She had never treated a child at 9 years old with cannabis before, but because my son had dropped down to 42 pounds, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we lost Joey.”
Hester-Perez’s advocacy organization, the Unconventional Foundation for Autism, tells the story of other parents who have used cannabis to reduce nausea and increase the appetite of children going through chemotherapy when treating cancer. Other parents have used medical marijuana to treat seizure disorders such as epilepsy or Dravet syndrome. In these cases, cannabis can be especially helpful in mitigating the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, which can often take a heavy toll on a developing body.
Bio-pharma companies are looking to harness their R&D to create strains specifically for ailments suffered by children, such as Canada’s MediJean. The British Columbian company recently announced it is developing marijuana just for children.