Medical Marijuana Approved to Treat Severe Autism in Rhode Island

The state Department of Health this week approved medical marijuana use for people who suffer from some severe manifestations of autism, most of whom are children.

By Tom Mooney

The state Department of Health this week approved medical marijuana use for people who suffer from some severe manifestations of autism, most of whom are children.

But before doctors can recommend marijuana, the health department has implemented several safeguards "to ensure that patients are being treated safely."

Those safeguards require doctors to first try a new FDA-approved medication, also derived from marijuana, with the active ingredient CBD. The medication does not include THC, the mind-altering component of marijuana.

Doctors must also first consult with a child psychiatrist or pediatric neurologist in cases involving children and then follow up with those specialists three months after the initiation of medical marijuana. And if medical marijuana isn't working, the doctor must discontinue treatment.

The department's decision doesn't pertain to all patients with autism, but only those of "a very specific patient population," said health department spokesman Joseph Wendelken.

Some examples would be patients who engage in aggressive repetitive movements "in a way that jeopardizes their health or the health of the people around them" or are so antisocial that their health is jeopardized.

The department's decision to include autism spectrum disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana use sprang from a parent's request earlier this year. The department held a public hearing in August in which parents testified that they had seen improvements in their children after trying CBD.

Seven other states have made autism a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, according to advocacy group #cannabis4autism: Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

Massachusetts allows some autism patients to use medical marijuana because it is considered a "debilitating medical condition."

(c)2018 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

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