When it comes to medical marijuana, there are many that think the debate begins and ends with the legalization question. But those who follow the industry will tell you that the greatest struggle comes after the legality debate has been put to rest.
In Michigan, for example, the state has been wrestling with the question of whether or not to expand the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana to include autism. One person that has been leading the charge for this change is Lisa Smith.
Smith is the mother of a 6-year-old child with autism that acts out through dangerous behavior—hair pulling, self harm, etc. However, all that changed when Smith’s son was prescribed medical marijuana for unrelated seizures. Smith believes medical marijuana was the major catalyst for that change.
“That’s all stopped. He’s more focused, he’s calmer,” Smith told Detroit Free Press. “He sleeps better through the night. He has a better appetite. You can tell he’s growing, gaining weight.”
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel initially rejected proposals of including autism in 2013, citing lack of evidence; however, Smith filed a lawsuit that forced a second look at the issue and it received a much more favorable outcome.
On July 31, 2015, with a vote of 4-2, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel voted to recommend that autism be added to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana treatment.
The two members that voted against adding autism were not completely unconvinced by medical marijuana’s potential, but they expressed concern over its potential neurological effect on the developing brain.
“Palliative care, I understand immensely,” said board member Dr. Ronald Bradley to MLive. “What I don’t understand, in terms of child or adolescent development, is what harm we’re going to do.”
Although there is a dearth of scientific research into marijuana and autism, a 2013 study did find that marijuana may have some therapeutic uses in the treatment of autism.
While the board voted in favor of adding autism to the list of qualifying conditions, the final say does not rest with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel, but Mike Zimmer, director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Zimmer has until October to make a decision.
If Zimmer decides to allow autism, it will be the second time that Michigan has expanded its list of qualifying conditions since 2008. The first expansion happened in 2014 when post-traumatic stress disorder was added.