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Controversy over parents treating severely autistic son with medical marijuana

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An Oregon family has turned to medical marijuana to manage their son's severe autistic rage, KPTV reported.

Alex Echols, 11, is severely autistic, and his doctor said Alex's self-destructive behavior is brought on by tuberous sclerosis, a rare, genetic disorder that affects about 50,000 people in the U.S.  

The disorder causes unregulated growth of non-malignant tissue in organs. In Alex's case, his neurologist said growths in Alex's brain have led to seizures and autism.

Echols said by the time Alex was 5, he exhibited intense, self-directed rage. Echols showed us home videos of the rage. He said they videotaped the episodes to show doctors the injuries were self-inflicted.

His parents got him a helmet to protect his head, swaddled him like a newborn and tried mood-altering drugs to control the behavior, with little success. When he was eight years old, the Echols made the heartbreaking decision to move Alex into a state-funded group home.

But was there a way to help him? In late 2009, the Echols said they saw a television news story about a California woman who was using medical marijuana to treat her autistic son. The Echols researched Oregon's medical marijuana program, and in 2010, a doctor approved Alex for medical marijuana use.

KPTV - FOX 12

Alex is now one of 58 minors currently protected under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. While autism is not a qualifying medical condition like cancer or severe pain, in Alex's case, his seizures were.

And after a few months of treatment, the Echols said they saw a dramatic improvement.  

Echols said Alex's group home will not administer the marijuana, so, about three times a week off-site, his parents give Alex a liquid form of the drug by mouth.

While Dr. Colin Roberts, Alex's doctor and a pediatric neurologist at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, did not condone the treatment, he said he understood the family's desire to help their child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has circulated a resolution that opposes the use of medical marijuana in children. Dr. Sharon Levy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston's Children's Hospital and chairwoman of the AAP's committee on substance abuse, told FOX 12 marijuana is toxic to children's developing brains. She also said enough isn't known about the drug's long-term effects.

The Echols have set up a Facebook page that chronicles Alex's journey. You can find their blog at www.facebook.com/alex.autism.rage.mmj.

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