State lawmakers are debating a medical marijuana bill -- a controversial topic here in Florida.
Now, a family in Oregon is trying to show the world it can sometimes be the best solution. They are using it to treat their son who is autistic, and has violent rages where he beats himself bloody.
Alex Echols is 11 years old, severely autistic, and beats himself bloody in violent rages.
His self-destructive behavior is brought on by tuberous sclerosis, a genetic disorder that affects about 50,000 people in the United States.
It causes growths in organs -- in Alex's case, primarily in the brain. Those growths can lead to seizures, and autism.
Alex can't communicate with words, making it difficult to understand what was troubling him.
"He'd being acting normal and then all of a sudden run himself into a wall. It was horrifying," said his father, Jeremy Echols.
His parents have turned to a controversial treatment -- medical marijuana -- to manage Alex's behavior.
"When you've got no other options are you honestly gonna say no?" Jeremy said.
Alex was only 6 weeks old when he had his first seizure. He started hurting himself around the age of 3.
"Slamming head into the wall, screaming," Jeremy described.
By the time Alex was 5, it had blown up into intense, self-directed rage. He head-butted anything he could, bruising his forehead so badly, his father says the blood would drain until Alex's entire face was black and blue.
They got him a helmet, swaddled him like a newborn, and tried mood-altering drugs. But Alex's daily, violent behavior became the Eugene family's new normal.
When he was 8 years old, they made the heartbreaking decision to move Alex into a state-funded group home.
"It was like we were throwing him away, like we were giving him to somebody else and saying sorry buddy, you're not part of the family anymore. It was pretty rough," Jeremy said, holding back tears.
But was there a way to help him? Alex's parents looked into Oregon's medical marijuana program and a doctor approved Alex. He is now one of more than 50 Oregon children with a medical marijuana card.
While autism is not a qualifying medical condition like cancer or severe pain, in Alex's case, the seizures are. And after a few months of treatment, the Echols say they saw a dramatic improvement.
"He went from being completely -- yelling, screaming, bloodying his face -- to within an hour, hour and a half, he would be playing with toys, using his hands. Something that at that time was almost unheard of," Jeremy said.
Alex's group home will not administer the marijuana, so about three times a week offsite, his parents give Alex a liquid form of the drug.
The dosage is up to the parent, and Oregon law does not require a doctor to monitor a child's medical marijuana use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says research shows marijuana is toxic to the brain of developing, and there isn't enough known about its long-term effects.
"For us the long-term side effects that are unknown for something that can't kill him are a lot better than the long-term side effects of him beating himself bloody," Jeremy said.
The Echols also say they're not advocating the use of medical marijuana for all autistic children.
But they say walk a mile in their shoes, and the treatment might not seem so extreme.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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