A Bossier City mother believes medical marijuana could help control her autistic teen son's violent meltdowns.
Now a bill advancing in the Louisiana Legislature would make medical marijuana available to people with autism. And for mom Monica Stampley it can't happen soon enough.
Her son, Judah, just turned 15. The big teenager enjoys outings with his mom at Columbia Park in Shreveport -- but life with Judah is anything but a walk in the park.
"It can happen anywhere, anytime," Mrs. Stampley says of her son's meltdowns.
She pointed out fresh damage to the family's new vehicle -- a dented car door from slamming it against the house. Inside their home, a leather seat cushion is ripped away, and in some rooms a patchwork of cardboard covers holes Judah has pounded in the walls.
When asked about school, Judah responded, sadly, "I've been restricted."
He's been homebound since February because of his behavior at school. He now attends an evaluation center only a couple of hours per week, Stampley said.
Judah did not want to talk anymore during an interview.
"Don't make me angry," he warned his mother.
"Most of the time we're walking on eggshells," Mrs. Stampley says.
Other parents are sharing videos on YouTube of their severely autistic children after marijuana use. Mood stabilizing drugs haven't worked for them, like a girl in Texas named Kara. So the family tried marijuana. In Kara's case, her father has her inhale cannabis vapor. Three minutes later, according to the video, she's calmed down.
A boy in Oregon, whose parents put him in a helmet because his head-banging fits left him bruised and bloodied, is now being treated with cannabis oil. His seizures made him eligible to receive it.
"When you've got no other options, are you honestly going to say no?" says Jeremy Echols, the boy's father.
Within an hour of his dose, according to a video, the boy was calmly playing.
Others, like a toddler in southern California, are on CBD oil, or cannabidiol. It's legal in all 50 states. The family puts it in his yogurt.
They say after starting that treatment, their three-year-old stopped being violent, slept through the night for the first time, and began speaking in sentences and spelling words.
Monica Stampley began giving Judah CBD oil after he became homebound.
"It has chilled him out a little bit, and opened him up a little bit. But we still have issues. We're still having some meltdowns," she says.
CBD oil does not contain THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana that makes one high. So CBD oil is not as effective or long lasting as actual medical marijuana, which Stampley wants for Judah to "allow him to function in society."
Asked if that can happen without medical marijuana, Mrs. Stampley says, "No. I'm not saying it can happen because of it. But I don't think it can happen without it. I really don't. Because if we're on the same path that we've been on it's not going to happen."
Many health professionals want to proceed cautiously.
"What we have now is a lot of anecdotal evidence and anecdotal stories from families who have used it with children with severe behavioral outbursts," said Dr. Michelle Yetman, a clinical psychologist at LSU Health Shreveport.
She says that while medical marijuana for severe autism shows promise, controlled research is needed to scientifically determine whether medical marijuana with THC should be approved for severely autistic patients.
"Do you need that component in there to have the same benefit on behavior or not? That's an important question to answer," Dr. Yetman said. "That can affect treatment outcome."
Since marijuana is a narcotic, government funding has not flowed for controlled research in the United States. Only observational studies are being done here. Canada, Israel and The Netherlands are doing government studies.
But with mood stabilizing drugs ineffective, and CBD oil not completely effective, Monica Stampley hopes the Louisiana Legislature approves medical marijuana for patients like Judah. She wants him to be able to complete school, get training, and perhaps have a future with computers.
"He's a genius on the computer," she says. "I'm surprised he can't just build one yet himself. I'm sure that's coming. He knows how to look up all the specs on his computer."
But Judah has to be able to function with others. Or else, his mom says, "He'll be at home with a caretaker."
House Bill 627 easily passed the Louisiana house, and is now before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
Eight other states plus the District of Columbia currently make medical marijuana available to people with autism.
So far, Louisiana limits medical marijuana to a handful of conditions and diseases, including HIV and AIDS and seizure disorders.
Medical marijuana is expected to become available in Louisiana in late summer with a limited number of specially-licensed pharmacies.