Patient Story: A Child with Autism Experiences a Transformation with Medical Cannabis
“Three years ago, I would never have believed he would have friends because he didn’t know how to interact with kids.” – Celina Mull
Because of medical cannabis, 8-year-old Parker Mull has unlocked a vibrant childhood that his parents once never thought was possible. Now, his mother, Celina Mull, is eager to share their family’s success with medical cannabis with others who may be facing the same difficulties they once did with Parker.
Early Signs of Developmental Delays
Parker, who lives with his family in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (AUD) and Global Development Delays after his parents noticed he was having issues with communication around the age of two.
“He was pretty much non-verbal at that point,” Parker’s mother Celina says, “It was nothing but frustration for him because of not being able to communicate.” In addition to communication issues, Celina adds that Parker also had challenges with potty training and sleep regulation, and feeding him had become difficult as he was averse to the textures of many foods.
Desperate for help for her son, Celina pursued what options she had available.
A Journey Through Treatment Options
Parker got the support of an Occupational Therapist and received Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy to help with his developmental and behavioral issues. In preschool, he received the support of a behavioral aide with additional support in the autistic support classroom for tests and certain assignments.
In terms of pharmaceutical options, Celina says that many of the medications that are prescribed to treat children with autism have “lots of side effects that can make issues worse.”
By age five, Parker still faced daily challenges in communication, regulating his mood, and feeding, and he continued to experience anxiety around social interactions, leaving Celina and her husband Scott determined to find the best treatment to improve his quality of life.
An Open Mind, and a Cautious Approach
It was when Celina joined a Facebook group with other parents with children with autism and developmental delays that she learned about medical cannabis as an option to address some of Parker’s challenges.
“I’ve always been pro-cannabis; there are a lot of benefits to it,” says Celina who approached medical cannabis for Parker with an open mind after hearing of other parents’ positive experiences. She began researching medical cannabis for children with autism and was referred to Compassionate Clinics of America to discuss with Medical Director Dr. Monika Juszczyk (“Dr. Monika”) whether medical cannabis was an option for Parker.
Dr. Monika says that many factors are considered when certifying a patient under the age of 18 with Autism Spectrum Disorder for medical cannabis. “Those with autism are sensitive to internal and external stimuli,” she explains. “Medical cannabis can stabilize the brain from extra stimuli.”
In the treatment of minors with medical cannabis, there are often concerns about its use while the brain is still in development. “We do know that the developing brain is very sensitive, and their hormonal system is still in development,” says Dr. Monika regarding these concerns, “We have to be very cautious. We have to ensure safety measures are applied,” she says, which encompasses dosing, product choice, and access for minor patients. “The responsibility falls on the caregivers for observing the effects of medical cannabis on minors. They need to be watched like a hawk at all times.”
Informed by research and patient testimonials, and understanding the specifics of Parker’s challenges, Dr. Monika approved Parker for a medical cannabis certification with Celina as a caregiver. Compassionate Clinics of America then guided Celina through the process of registering with Pennsylvania’s Department of Health to obtain Parker’s medical cannabis card and her caregiver status. “It’s not that hard, it’s just multiple steps,” said Celina of the process that involved her getting fingerprinted and having a criminal background check. “You just have to remind yourself ‘It’ll be worth it’”, she adds.
A Transformation Occurs
Once the process was complete, the family began exploring the options for medical cannabis products that Parker had available to him within the dispensaries of Snyder County, which included AYR Wellness.
Dr. Monika explains that when providing a medical cannabis certification for a minor patient, she will never recommend smoking or vaping due to the potentially harmful hydrocarbons that are inhaled into the lungs, increasing the risk for certain cancers, inflammation, and bronchial disorders. “I will discuss different options such as Rick Simpson Oil, tinctures, or edibles,” she says.
Celina decided that tinctures would be the easiest way to administer cannabis medicine to Parker, trying products with different ratios of THC to CBD. She admits that the journey to finding the best products for Parker wasn’t easy at first. “The first year of using it is hard, and people need to know to not get discouraged in that first year because you have to try different options to see what works,” she advises. “Once you find that sweet spot, then it’s worth it.”
After trying a few products, Parker eventually began to respond to the Revel 1:1 THC/CBD Tincture in some pretty incredible ways.
“His speech really took off, and he was able to make full sentences,” Celina recounts, “He was able to have communications where we were able to talk back and forth and have conversations.” Soon enough, Parker was able to become potty trained, his moods began to regulate, and he shot forward with his developmental milestones.
While research on medical cannabis for pediatric patients with autism is still limited, medical cannabis physicians recommend cannabis medicine based on its impact on the regulation of the endocannabinoid system. This system plays a crucial role in various biological processes, including brain development and functioning. It is also theorized that medical cannabis can help regulate levels of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin in the autistic brain, which play a role in behaviors and interactions.
Coming Out of His Shell
Celina says that since starting cannabis medicine three years ago, Parker has completely come out of his shell, and she has witnessed a complete transformation in her son.
Because of his medicine, Parker now needs less support in school. He moved into first grade with minimal support from a behavioral aide, and no longer joined the autistic support classroom, but instead had test modifications. Now in second grade, Parker no longer receives modifications in class and is independently completing grade-level work.
“He participates in class, raises his hand, answers questions, and volunteers to do things,” says Celina of Parker’s progress. “He has made a great group of friends,” she joyfully adds. “Three years ago, I would never have believed he would have friends because he didn’t know how to interact with kids.” He occasionally receives the support of a behavioral aide to help him continuously improve his social interactions.
In addition to his improvements in school, Celina and Scott are seeing a transformation within their family at home. Parker has formed an incredible bond with his sister whom he’d had difficulty interacting with before his medicine changed how he responded to others. “His overall attitude is better,” Celina says.
Fostering the Whole Child
While Dr. Monika believes that the regulation of the endocannabinoid system is a key component of Parker’s success with medical cannabis, she also attributes a stable environment, eating a balanced diet of fresh foods, and staying active as imperative to the medicine’s success. “Every child is special, extraordinary, and unique. We are here to support a child’s full potential, which is not only through medical cannabis; all areas of the child have to be fostered,” she says.
As a caregiver, Celina is sure to keep Parker’s medicine administration regular and integrated into his daily routines. He receives a dose of the Revel 1:1 THC/CBD Tincture in the morning before school, a dose after school, and the Revel 4:1 THC/CBN Tincture about ten minutes before bedtime to help him sleep. “He just knows that taking his medicine is part of his day,” Celina says. She says that she explains that his medicine makes him feel more calm and “a little less grumpy” when he asks questions about it.
Because Snyder County is rather small, Celina says that continuity in medical cannabis products is a consistent challenge, and the preferred Revel 1:1 THC/CBD Tincture that she found works best has been out of stock at dispensaries in her county for many months. Because of this, she has had to find other products that produce similar results, which can often be challenging. As an alternative, she has found that a rice-sized dab of Rick Simpson Oil placed into a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup provides similar results as the preferred tincture. For nighttime, she will always look for products with CBN because of its sedative effects.
Celina is passionate about helping other parents with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Development Delays learn more about what is possible with cannabis medicine. She hopes that Parker’s story can benefit other families navigating similar challenges with treatments for autism and developmental delays and is grateful for the support of Compassionate Clinics of America and Dr. Monika throughout their journey.
If you are a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other developmental delays and are considering exploring medical cannabis, we invite you to reach out to Compassionate Clinics of America by scheduling an appointment online, or by calling us at (888) 372-0325.