Autism, like epilepsy, is a condition that can benefit from treatment with medical cannabis when all other treatment options have failed. The Academy spoke to Maureen Rochford, whose son Christopher suffers from severe autism and has experienced greater relief from his symptoms using medical cannabis than with his previous dietary changes and anti-seizure medications. In the following interview we got an idea of how medical cannabis has changed Christopher and his family’s life for the better and what the family’s plans for future treatment involve.
First of all, I wonder if you could fill us in on how you first found out that your son had autism? What symptoms was he experiencing?
Christopher has a diagnosis of severe autism. He was 12 and a half years old when he had his first seizure – it was more like an absence to start, he became unresponsive for about a minute and then came round and seemed tired afterwards but was fully alert. There was no head turning, rigid, stiff or jerking movements or full tonic clonic dropping to the floor. Over time, the severity of his seizures increased and he presented as full tonic clonic, losing colour etc.
There was no pattern in terms of frequency but if he was unwell or tired or if we introduced a new supplement or medication this could be a trigger.
How did this affect you and your family?
It was very stressful, distressing and upsetting to witness and the unpredictability of the seizures made planning activities difficult and many activities had to be cancelled at the last minute. It was life changing for Christopher and us as a family.
What treatment was your son receiving for the management of his condition prior to beginning medical cannabis treatment?
Christopher has tried a number of anti seizure medications over the years and we also tried dietary intervention.
How successful was this treatment? Were there any side effects?
The dietary intervention didn’t make any difference, nor did a high intake of MCT, coconut or fish oils.
The treatment wasn’t successful because he was so sensitive he couldn’t tolerate the medication and we could never get up to the therapeutic dose with the horrendous side effects. All of the side effects affected his behaviour, for instance making him hyperactive, aggressive, manic and challenging.
When did you begin researching medical cannabis as a treatment option and how did you decide this would be the best treatment for your son?
Christopher had many blood tests done, an MRI and a lumbar puncture (all under anaesthetic) to ty and identify the cause of his symptoms – nothing came back as abnormal. Because conventional drugs weren’t suiting him, we looked into medicinal cannabis privately and he is currently on the NHS waiting list.
Did you face any stigma or judgment over your choice to access medical cannabis treatment for your son?
From some professionals yes, probably because of their lack of knowledge around its use.
How cooperative were the NHS/ NHS doctors around you seeking this form of treatment?
Christopher’s specialist neurologist supported us.
Was it hard to find a doctor willing to prescribe medical cannabis for your son?
On the NHS, yes it was. The only route we felt we could take was private and we were lucky a clinic opened where we live.
How has medical cannabis treatment improved your son’s life?
He’s been on a very low dose for 5 weeks. We’re currently struggling to increase it because of the affect on behaviour we’ve seen when we’ve upped the dose.
However the low dose he is on is having a massive positive affect on his mood, agitation levels and flexibility, and all this has been noted by a service provider where he attends. We’ve been having some lovely interactive days.
Has this treatment had any impact on your family life?
Yes, If he’s happy were happy. We feel far more confident when we are leaving him that he’ll enjoy his day and can access stuff without getting anxious.
Do you experience any issues around accessing this treatment? What do you think should be done to improve ease of access?
Cost is certainly an issue, it shouldn’t have to be accessible only through private prescriptions. Our doctor, Dr Okiri, and Chris, our pharmacy specialist, totally believe in medical cannabis’ medicinal properties, the life changing benefits it can provide and embracing cutting edge stuff.
Is there anything about society and the industry in general that you think should be changed in regard to cannabis treatment?
The NHS and doctors should get on board and bring it into the 21st century. Other countries are leaving us for dead.
What are your plans for your son’s treatment in the future?
My son was recently given a new product, a night-time oil, for his condition. We’re yet to introduce it, but it’s hopefully going to help with night times and OCD routines.
We’d like to thank Maureen Rochford for taking the time to tell us about her experiences for this interview. We wish both Maureen and her son Christopher good luck in the future.
Like Maureen said in one of her answers, stigma around medical cannabis and its prescription arises from a lack of education. At The Academy, we’re committed to providing education so medical cannabis treatment can become accessible for anyone in need without its attached judgement as people become aware of the benefits it can provide.
For more information on how cannabis-based treatments can help with a range of conditions take a look at our evidence base, a ground-breaking systematic review of the history of research in this area and a global first-of-its-kind searchable database for clinical referencing.
If you’re a doctor looking to get the education to prescribe medical cannabis products for patients like Christopher, then sign up to our doctor training courses here.
The rest of our comprehensive resources on medical cannabis are available on our website. We urge anyone considering the use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.