To say Brandy Williams was a desperate parent is an understatement.
"No mother should feel like a punching bag," she said while describing what was happening with her little boy Logan.
"He was literally cocking his head back and smashing it forward on hard objects around our house. I had 30 dents in my middle front door. I had a hole in every single door in my home," Williams said explaining her son's destructive and self-injurious behavior.
A few years ago, Logan was diagnosed with a severe form of autism.
"He would rip his clothing off his body. He wouldn't wear shoes. He wouldn't sleep. He barely ate anything," she said to a small crowd in Mesa last month.
"We've been buying diapers for six years. I couldn't even find a school that could work with his behaviors."
That was William's life before she decided to try a new treatment.
"It's changed my life, so much," said the teary-eyed mom. "I just got him into school. A public school."
She's describes the night-and-day difference she's experienced after giving cannabis products to Logan. She said the results turned their lives around for the better.
"His teacher told me that he is the best behaved kid in her class. I never thought I would hear those words. He's saying his ABC's. He's feeding himself. He is eating. He is gaining weight. He's been seizure-free and he's reading, and he's singing, and he's happy, and he's making friends at school," said Williams.
"Cannabis has changed our entire lives," she said.
Brandy was speaking on behalf of a group called MomForceAZ, a grassroots organization that meets in a casual setting every month to spread their message.
They organize for pot instead of pills like the heavy anti-psychotic Risperdal that Logan was prescribed.
"They wanted my son to have this drug at 3-years-old. I was very uncomfortable with that," said Williams.
Williams is also the state director of a cannabis advocacy group called Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA). She is one of a growing number of parents thankful to have found an alternative.
Even though autism is not a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, Williams was able to get a card for Logan because of his seizures. Currently, 179 children in Arizona are medical marijuana patients. "What I do know is that too many people are taking too many pharmaceuticals," said Kathy Inman, founder of MomForce.
Inman is convinced those who have kids with autism and other disorders should know that cannabis is a viable option for treatment.
"We are parents and concerned citizens that are standing up for cannabis education, harm prevention and whole health solutions because we know natural works better," Inman said at the Mesa gathering.
It is a belief that many in the medical community currently do not endorse
"My heart goes out to parents of kids with special needs, and especially kids where the diagnosis doesn't have a clear treatment associated with it, like autism," said Dr. Dale Guthrie, a pediatrician in Gilbert.
Guthrie is also the Tobacco, Alcohol, Drug-Free Generation Coordinator for the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"I don't judge people for trying to go out and find something to help their kids, but as I research this my concern is that we have now really good research that shows the dangers of using marijuana products in young people," said Guthrie.
The research he's referring to shows children who use marijuana in their teens will lose eight IQ points by the time they are in their 20s.
"That sounds small, but we know that it changes the brain. Why does it do that? Because kids, their brain is still what we call 'plastic.' Plasticity means that it's still forming. It's still changing. It's still developing," Guthrie explained.
Parisa Mansouri-Rad was another desperate parent.
"When you have a child that's chronically ill and suffering, I think you basically look to anything to solve these issues for your child."
She describes her darkest moments when she thought her daughter was going to die.
"On the floor begging for an answer. Anything to keep my daughter alive. I mean, that's how serious her condition was," said Mansouri-Rad.
Her daughter, Yasmina, was born at 23 weeks weighing just one pound.
"She has retinopathy of prematurity, which basically means she was born too early and had to have a lot of oxygen to survive," said Mansouri-Rad.
Her daughter, Yazy, is blind and has cerebral palsy. She later developed a life-threatening condition requiring spinal surgery after her intestines collapsed. She couldn't eat or drink.
"It was really a scary time and we didn't know if she was going to make it," said Mansouri-Rad.
But today, the mother of two has hope.
"Having to watch your child suffer isn't easy, and now that I've found something that gives her relief, it's a light at the end of the tunnel," she explained.
For Yazy, cannabis is that light. She takes CBD oil and wears a patch to get the plant's benefits. She qualified for a medical marijuana card because of her chronic pain. "She was on a myriad of pharmaceuticals that weren't working, and now she's only on cannabis, which is miraculous. Her mainstream doctors are all like, 'Wow, this is remarkable. This is a different Yazy,'" said Mansouri-Rad.
The high school freshman gained 15 pounds in a year and was able to fulfill her "Make A Wish" and meet Justin Bieber.
"She's able to return back to school. She's able to eat independently. She's able to play with her little sister. She's able to laugh and have a good time. She's like a kid again," she said.
Mansouri-Rad knows her decision to medicate with marijuana doesn't sit well with all parents.
"I'm sure I would be condemned in mainstream for speaking out this vocally about cannabis. I hope they're never in a situation where they have to make that tough call for what's the best decision for their child," said Mansouri-Rad.
But she's speaking out because she feels obligated to share the secret to her daughter's success with other families who are suffering.
"We're not just out here trying to dope up our kids. We're trying to save them. I feel like, if I'm out here, telling people that it's okay, we're living a normal life. I'm not lighting a joint for my daughter, that's the main thing," said Mansouri-Rad.
Despite hearing these positive stories of parents whose children are now doing better, Guthrie urges caution because of the lack of research regarding cannabis use among children with special needs.
"When we listen to those, I'm happy for them. But when we open this up for everybody, then we know, with all kind of different diagnoses that haven't been tried and proven, then we're gonna hurt a lot of people," Guthrie warned.
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