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Mom: Medical pot saved life of son with autism

August 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Medical marijuana used to treat a 10-year-old boy with autism may sound shocking. But one Orange County mother says she exhausted all other options. Before using medical marijuana, doctors described Joey as "hostile, destructive, a danger to himself and others."

His mother says he's now a different boy.

Four months ago, doctors told Joey's mom that he was going to die. She strongly believes medical marijuana saved her son's life.

"Had I had not gone this route, my son would not be here," said Joey's mom.

Joey was diagnosed with autism when he was 16-months-old. His symptoms are severe.

"His behavior was just completely off the charts," said Joey's mom. "It was taking its toll on our entire family."

Joey doesn't speak or walk. He'll never lead a so-called normal life.

"He didn't sleep for weeks, and neither did I," said Joey's mom.

She and a team of doctors tried everything, including 13 different medications and therapy. At one point, Joey was taking six medications at once. But the prescription drugs took a toll on Joey's body, causing liver damage, minor seizures, insomnia and drastic weight loss.

Joey was diagnosed with malnutrition and anorexia, and his weight dropped to 46 pounds.

"I have a 10-year-old that was 46 pounds," said Joey's mom. "He was very weak. You could see the bones in his chest. And at that point I realized if I did not take him off these hardcore prescribed medications, my son was going to die."

In desperation, Joey's mom finally turned to medical marijuana. She gives it to him in specially prepared brownies and cookies.

She says the changes have been dramatic.

Joey's doctor said she noticed a difference within weeks.

"She looked at Joey and said, 'For the first time Joey has cheeks,'" Joey's mom recalls. "Now he eats everything. Everything! Calamari ? he eats sushi. My son is finally getting the nutrients that he's been missing for the last seven years.

But it's not just his appetite that has changed. Joey is calmer and less edgy.

"He's happy, he feels alive. And to hear him make sounds, I mean, we've never heard him make sounds," said Joey's mom.

Joey's repetitive behaviors have also diminished.

"This to me sounds like a very reasonable use of medical marijuana," said Dr. Drew Pinksy, a specialist in addiction.

"The idea that somehow cannabis is a 'bad' drug and there are 'good' drugs, that's a huge mistake. There are drugs that have liabilities and used properly can really help people. This is a clear situation where it's helping a kid. Why shouldn't they use it?" adds Dr. Drew.

He warns that any such treatment must be carefully monitored by Joey's doctors, but potential addiction shouldn't be an issue.

"I mean there may be withdrawal symptoms, there may be anxiety and other mood disturbances down the road from using cannabis, but you're not going to use, it's not going to convert this child who has no history of addiction into an addict," said Dr. Drew.

Dr. Drew and Joey's mom, both agree that more research is needed. But for now Joey's mom believes the marijuana saved her son.

"People who have seen Joey ... Joey's a completely different child," she said.

Joey's mom did not want her name used in fear of a backlash, but agreed to tell their story in hopes of helping other parents with special needs children.

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