‘It’s the one medicine we have seen work’: Oregon parents use medical marijuana to help severely autistic son
Alex Echols has Tuberous Sclerosis, a rare genetic disorder that led to autism and seizures from a young age. Medical marijuana is the only treatment that eased his violent behavior, his parents said.
Most parents wouldn't dream of giving their child marijuana. But an Oregon couple says it's the only thing that's been able to help their 11-year-old autistic son.
Young Alex Echols suffers from Tuberous Sclerosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes unregulated growth of tissue in the organs. Growths in Alex's brain have led to seizures and autism, his neurologist told Oregon's KPTV.
"Alex cannot communicate using words and that leads to behavior that is very frustrating for him and for those caring for him," Dr. Colin Roberts, a pediatric neurologist at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, told the station.
Alex's seizures began when he was barely two months old. His situation escalated at age 3 when he began experiencing episodes of severe rage that caused him to hurt himself. By age 5, his violent behavior included head-butting, hitting and scratching himself to the point of bruising and bleeding. No medication seemed to help.
When he was 8, Alex's overwhelmed parents made the heartbreaking decision to send their son to a group home.
"Alex had every family of behavior medication known to the psychiatrist, and we tried private behavior therapy," his mother Karen wrote on a Facebook page set up to share their experience. "We tried some swimming for a while, we had a special sensory room set up in the garage, and we did some stuff at home and at school with communication techniques to try and help him tell us what he needed before he got into a rage fit ... we tried a lot of stuff before we considered the group home."
Giving Alex medical marijuana hadn't entered the Echols' minds until they saw a TV news story about an autistic boy in California who had benefitted from it. Oregon also has a medical marijuana program, and Alex was approved in 2010. He is one of just 58 minors currently in the program, according to KPTV, which notes that his seizures, not his autism, were the qualifying medical condition.
About three times a week, his parents travel to Alex's group home to give him a liquid form of the drug, since the staff will not administer it.
After a few months, his father Jeremy said, "[Alex] went from being completely, yelling, screaming, bloodying his face, to within an hour, hour-and-a-half, he would be playing with toys, using his hands. Something that at that time was almost unheard of."
In response to media coverage of the story, Alex's parents stress that while the unlikely treatment has provided some hope, it hasn't cured him of his symptoms.
6-YEAR-OLD BOY FINDS SEIZURE RELIEF THROUGH MEDICAL MARIJUANA
"I think the story has generated some confusion. Cannabis has helped Alex, but we didn't try it until the situation was dire," the Echols wrote on their Facebook page, Alex's Story.
"Cannabis seems to be helping Alex, but it hasn't cured him of his rage. We have seen him significantly benefit many times, but he still has days when nothing helps, and he is still very dangerous at times.
"Our battle now is to share our story, and push for fixing the federal laws so that one day the group home will be able and willing to dose Alex with the one medicine that we have seen work."