Action News Jax Investigates: Holy Land medicine

by: Ben Becker, Action News Jax Updated:

There’s promising signs in the Promised Land that medical marijuana can be used as a treatment for autism and reduce the use of anti-psychotic medications 

Action News Jax’s Ben Becker went to Israel and learned about this pioneering research in the country that’s been called the Holy Land of medical marijuana. 

There are more than 100 clinical trials underway, but it’s the one for autism that could mean so much for so many. 

In one video, an Israeli boy with autism wearing a helmet to protect himself is having an outburst, but not long after the same child who is perfectly calm and learning how to count.

What changed? Two drops of cannabis oil under his tongue.

“We are able to do research, which in the States you can’t because of your federal law,” said Abigail Dar, Israel’s leading advocate of using medicinal marijuana to treat children with autism. 

Dar has a 24-year-old son with severe autism. He once had so many violent outbursts, she couldn’t be alone with him. She said that changed when she changed his treatment to medical marijuana.

“The alternative for them is anti-psychotic medications and if you give high doses of anti-psychotics, you get them stoned either, just in a different way with much more side effects,” Dar said.

Israel is one of the world leaders in medical marijuana. There were only a few dozen medical marijuana users a decade ago; Israel’s ministry of health now says there are approximately 25,000 users. 

Israel is one of just three countries with a government-supported medical cannabis program.

It provides a big boost to research for conditions like autism that could benefit the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 school-aged children in the U.S. are affected with the disorder.

“It’s definitely not a cure all for everybody,” Jacksonville psychiatrist Dr. Marcus de Carvalho said. 

He said there are hundreds of compounds of cannabis, so it’s almost trial and error to know what could work for autism.

“What is the right strain, what is the right level and how much do we give,” de Carvalho said.

As for Dar, she said medical marijuana worked for her child but cautions parents need to be patient.

“Sometimes parents say, ‘Whoa we have access, this is it,’ but it’s just the beginning of the journey,” Dar said.

Autism is still not a qualifying condition to use medical marijuana in Israel, but it is allowed as a “mercy treatment” for about 300 children and adults.

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