Dr. Frankel's Journal

THC VS. PHARMACEUTICALS: ONE MOTHER’S JOURNEY

September 21, 2017
Allan Frankel, MD

We recently received the following note from the mother of a patient with Autism who has seen great improvement of his symptoms after beginning a cannabis regimen:

Having a child with a disability is beyond a doubt one of the greatest challenges a parent can face. From the moment you receive the diagnosis, a parent is dealing with a myriad of emotions. Much of the information regarding your child’s disability will be new and overwhelming. My experience was as if I spent the early years living in the waters of a rising tsunami. I continued to feel this way until I discovered Dr. Frankel and medical cannabis. It was at this point that the tides changed and my son’s future began to look brighter.

When my son was first diagnosed with autism, I was told he would be institutionalized. He was four years old and incredibly difficult to live with. My reaction was typical of what I’ve found of how most parents react: I screamed, shouted, and grieved for the first few years. At the same time, I was introduced to the world of insane bureaucracy which included our education system, health care, state and federally funded programs, etc. I was continually given conflicting information. Sadly, the most helpful information came from those who worked hands-on with my son. The medical professionals seemed to have clinical knowledge based on data but very little real-life experience. Outcomes for his prognosis were bleak. I realized quickly that my son’s autism would never be managed by a team of professionals. The only way my son was going to receive the support he needed was going to be through my family’s hard work and perseverance.

My son’s focus issue was one of the most challenging aspects of his disability. For years, I tried to keep him from taking pharmaceuticals. Eventually, I found that he was unable to access not only his education but the world around him without some way of helping him to focus. I went to one of the best child psychiatrists in Los Angeles and for over five years we tried every pharmaceutical imaginable. Nothing worked. From the moment I gave my son pharmaceuticals, he began to lose weight due to his loss of appetite and he could not sleep due to the stimulant. As my son also has a severe anxiety disorder, I remember countless times asking the doctor to please explain how a stimulant is supposed to help a child who is already anxious. The doctor repeatedly told me that the ‘right’ stimulant would help my son’s brain to calm down. This never happened. Before my son entered high school, the doctor prescribed a drug to help the anxiety. As soon as my son started the drug, he began to have even more severe abdominal issues. His new school contacted me to discuss the problem. I then contacted the doctor explaining that my son was now having difficulty attending school but the doctor insisted I ‘give it more time’. I realized then that I had heard the doctor repeat this phrase so many times over the last five years that he could have had it on a plaque on his desk. The first two months of my son’s freshman year had become a nightmare. In addition, the only change in my son’s focus and anxiety issues was that they were worse. Much worse.

That’s when I took a leap of faith. I took my son off all pharmaceuticals and tried medical marijuana. The change was immediate and dramatic. Within three months, Dr. Frankel had my son on a dosage that helped him to begin to manage his focus and anxiety issues. His abdominal issues cleared up and my son began to gain his weight back. For the first time in my son’s life, we began to see him calm down. His focus started to get slightly better. His sleep was finally back to normal.

It was at this point my son was finally able to learn from all the various therapeutic supports he was receiving. For the first time, he was able to feel what it meant to ‘be calm’. You don’t realize that a state of being is actually a learned skill until you raise a kid with autism. And simply telling a child he needs to calm down is not going to work when the child has never ‘felt calm’. What the cannabis did for my son was to help calm his brain down enough to allow his neuropathways to repattern themselves so my son could start living his life from a level of being calm. Slowly, my son began to progress in his speech and social skills. Three years later, I am happy to report that for the first time my son has a few school friends. At night, I hear him on the phone chatting away about whatever happened that day at school. During the day, he secretly texts back and forth to his friends that he does not want me to know about. He can now even attend various extra-curricular activities without a behavioral aide. He is moody with me and wants his independence. In other words, he acts like a normal teenage boy. And although my son still has a way to go, we as a family now have hope that he’ll eventually be able to attend a vocational school or community college.

When I think back of the moment that the UCLA doctor told me my son would most likely be institutionalized, I remember the pain and anguish of wondering if my son would ever be able to function in a world that is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate in. I remember spending years trying to devise a program of therapies that would help my son overcome his disability and become a viable member of our society. Now, I realize that there was only one thing missing in my son’s regimen: cannabis!

I will forever be grateful to Dr. Frankel. He gave me my peace of mind back and he gave my son a life outside of an institution. And, incredibly this June, my son will graduate with a high school diploma.

As a parent, I don’t think I could have asked for anything more…

M. Baker

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