PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Abigail Dar’s son, Yuval, is 24-years-old, and she says he is severely autistic.
Mollie Ryckman Barrett’s youngest daughter, Sumer, is 13-years-old and has Asperger Syndrome. This is the story of two moms looking for answers to help their children.
"Medication helps, at times. Sumer, who is doing well in seventh grade, takes two of them," Barrett said. “One helps her focus with her brain and one relaxes her brain a little bit.”
Always, though, there is the nagging worry. “How safe really is the medication we are giving our children today?” asked Barrett.
Dar gave her autistic son higher and higher doses of pharmaceutical prescription medications for years in a bid to control his anxiety and aggressiveness.
Dar complained, “They just give medication hoping it will give an answer, which it doesn’t, and I get my kid crazier and crazier.”
Amid that frustration, Dar had an alternative within reach.
“Israel is much more liberal regarding medical cannabis,” Dar said.
Dar spoke from her home outside Tel Aviv, Israel, where she is at the forefront of medical marijuana research. “I gave him (Yuval) his first dose and it was a miracle,” she remembered.
The dose she talked about was a strain of medical cannabis she and her son’s psychiatrist settled on after trial and error. Yuval became calmer, less anxious, more attentive.
“It’s a game changer,” Abigail said, “it gave us quality of life.”
Barrett said she wants the same opportunity for her daughter, but their home in West Palm Beach, Florida is far removed from the access, and attitudes, available in Israel.
“We should have a right to decide in our home what is in the best interest of our children, what is the safest alternative option for them,” Barrett said.
She said she hopes to someday use cannabis derived oils for Sumer, but her child’s doctor does not agree with the idea. “He just says,” Barrett recalled, “that he doesn’t feel it’s a safe option and she seems OK on her medicine and there really are no side effects.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not support medical marijuana use for autism-related disorders. One big issue, experts say, is the fact that there are many strains of cannabinoids in marijuana.
Dr. Norina Ocampo is a South Florida pediatrician. “The other issue is they think probably all these compounds work synergistically with each other to help, so how do you pick which one will be the right compound,” she said.
Dar is working with Israeli doctors, pushing for much more extensive research on that prime question. “Today we have over 300 kids having access to medical cannabis,” she said.