The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) approved on Tuesday the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for autism. The decision is effective immediately and is “a final action of RIDOH, subject to judicial approval,” according to a report from local media.
The health department’s decision places several requirements on doctors who decide to recommend medical marijuana for their autistic patients. Physicians are directed to consider “pharmaceutic grade forms of pure CBD” before recommending medical marijuana. Doctors must also document the reasons for using medical marijuana and the decision not to use pharmaceutical alternatives. They must also consult with specialists in the fields of child psychiatry, pediatric neurology, or developmental pediatrics and make an assessment of progress at least three months after the patient’s initial dosage of medicinal cannabis. Doctors must discontinue the use of medical marijuana if they do not see an improvement in the patient’s condition.
Joseph Wendelken, a RIDOH public information officer, said the requirements were intended “to ensure that the patient’s physician is consulting with the appropriate subspecialist to evaluate the risks and benefits.”
In April, parents petitioned the health department to allow them to use cannabis therapies such as CBD to treat their autistic children, arguing that autism should qualify as a debilitating medical condition. At a hearing on the petition in August, Nicole Cervantes testified that her autistic son had been banging his head so hard his forehead became misshapen. When she began treating him with CBD, however, his condition greatly improved.
“He has been able to focus more,” Cervantes said. “He no longer bangs his head.”
She said that she hoped the board would help her find the best treatment options for her son.
“If I don’t fight for him, who does he have?” Cervantes asked.
Dr. Randal Rockney of Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence also testified at the hearing. He said that the use of medical marijuana therapies could help to “manage the behavioral manifestations” of autism. He also said that the use of CBD as a treatment for autism warranted further investigation.
“A trial of such a medication to manage the behavioral manifestations of autism spectrum disorder would be a good idea,” Rockney said.
Dr. Henry Sachs, the medical director at Bradley Hospital in Riverside, Rhode Island, said in a statement to local media that he also believed that more research into the use of medical marijuana is needed.
“As health care providers, we rely heavily on research findings to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of any new treatment,” Sachs said. “Of course, those standards would need to be met around the use of marijuana treatment for patients with autism. Research is currently lacking in that area.”
Vermont approved the use of medical marijuana for registered patients with a qualifying debilitating medical condition and a doctor’s recommendation in 2004. The relatively short list of qualifying conditions includes cancer, HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, glaucoma, seizure disorders, and chronic pain. The program currently has approximately 4,500 registered patients.
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