Can Cannabis Treat Autism?

Fewer and fewer places in the US remain where it’s still a criminal act for adults 21 and older to use cannabis. Even fewer places deny sick Americans (with the right sickness to qualify them as medical marijuana patients) some accommodation to use cannabis lawfully. But even these 14 cannabis legalization holdouts agree that it’s OK to give marijuana extracts to kids, as long as those kids have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. And with good reason. Miraculous stories are all over the internet, such as children speaking their first words after using cannabis oil, or autistic adults with severe anxiety and near-total social isolation rejoining society after smoking cannabis. So, this begs the question, “Can cannabis ‘treat’ autism?”

A definitive final answer is elusive. However, as a review authored by researchers led by Mariana Babayeva, a professor at the Touro College of Pharmacy in New York and recently published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Bioscience found, a growing number of “clinical studies have shown promising results of cannabis treatment in” autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

How Cannabis Helps Autism

This makes practical and scientific sense. CBD and THC activate the network of receptors called the endocannabinoid system. “Due to its vital role in regulating emotion and social behaviors, the endocannabinoid system represents a potential target for the development of a novel autism therapy,” the study states.

Cannabis does help autism, as this latest review, prior studies and loads of compelling, convincing anecdotal stories say. But what cannabis treatment would work best for each individual case of autism, and how much cannabis should be given in those instances?

“It’s too early for anyone to recommend cannabis as a validated, well-studied type of a substance,” said Dr. Nathan Call, director of clinical operations at the Marcus Autism Center in North Druid Hills, Georgia, in a recent interview.

That’s the final word on cannabis and autism that’s yet to be spelled out. In the meantime, autism and cannabis suffer from the same knowledge gaps plaguing the rest of cannabis-based medicine.

Defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain,” autism has several known risk factors, but lacks a clearly identifiable cause. Treatments generally involve the off-label use of pharmaceutical drugs as a last and final desperate intervention to prevent behavior dangerous to the person or to others, as well as careful education—and plenty of coping skills.

However, as the authors of the Frontiers in Bioscience review noted, “several studies have suggested that dysfunctions in the components of the endocannabinoid system may contribute to the behavioral deficits and neuroinflammation observed in autism.”

Other studies have associated autism with problems with the body’s immune system. And there are endocannabinoid receptors found in immune cells that could “control the movement of inflammatory cells,” meaning if the receptors can be given the right amount of cannabis to generate the right response, that, too, might soothe the symptoms sufficiently to allow the sufferer to enjoy something closer to a “normal” life.

Given the knowledge gaps, studies investigating cannabis’ potential in treating autism have, by necessity, taken a shotgun approach, trying concoctions with low THC, no THC, high THC or ratios of CBD to THC including 20:1.

The 20:1 concoction, hit on by researchers in Israel, seemed to consistently present good results for most participants, with self-injury and rage improving in 67.6% of children in one 53-person study—but worsening in 8.8% of participants. And using cannabis in children is, of course, particularly delicate work.

What We Know, What We Don’t

But despite knowing this much, we still don’t know enough. As Babayeva and her co-authors stated, “there are very limited clinical data on the impact of cannabis on autism”—which, like cannabis, has many different phenotypes. And what works for someone with behavioral outbursts might not work for someone with severe anxiety.

“While cannabis might be beneficial in persons with one phenotype, it may have no effect or severe adverse outcomes in persons with other phenotypes,” the researchers wrote in their review.

Simply put, there isn’t enough data yet on specific cannabis concoctions for specific phenotypes of autism, leading parents and practitioners to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble onto the winning formula.

“More clinical investigations are needed to discover the efficacy, safety and dosing of the therapy,” the report states. “This would be a significant advance in the treatment of autism and could lead to improved functioning and quality of life for the patients and their families.”

Cannabis and Autism: The Final Word, For Now

Dale Jackson lives in Georgia, one of the states where adults can’t use cannabis without risking arrest, but where children with autism—like Jackson’s nine-year-old son Colin—are supposed to be able to access the drug. Without cannabis oil, Colin engages in the kind of self-harm associated with an autism spectrum disorder. Jackson wakes up at night hearing a thumping sound from his child’s room: the sound of Colin knocking his own head against the bedroom wall.

Cannabis has helped, but the problem, as Jackson said recently, is that Georgia’s nice-sounding law is unworkable. There’s “nowhere to buy it in Georgia,” Jackson recently told WALB, which means Jackson must resort to illicit means: underground medicine-makers in Georgia, or legally obtaining cannabis oil in other states and then illegally transporting it across state lines.

These are reasonable acts for a desperate parent with a child in distress, but both are unlawful.

“When you’re a caregiver of a child who’s hurting you every day or hurting themselves every day, you’re willing to try a lot of things to try to make your life a little bit better,” Dr. Call told The Atlanta Jewish Times.

At the present time, seven studies investigating cannabis in autism are in various stages of completion at universities across the US and Israel. Once the new data is presented, more, larger and longer-term studies will be required to present a definitive answer on how much CBD or THC is needed for the exact autism spectrum disorder. Until then, the final word on cannabis and autism is that it seems to help—it may even be a miracle cure. But finding the right mix is a shot in the dark.

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How Cannabis Can Help Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental and neurological disorder. Autism is a neurodivergence that primarily affects the synapses and connections between brain cells that help with communication, sensory processing and learning. While it is not unusual for one to discover they’re autistic at any age, many find out between ages two and four. And in […]

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Ohio Lawmakers Advance Bill To Allow Medical Cannabis for Autism

A bid in Ohio to allow patients with autism to be treated with medical cannabis gained momentum this week, with lawmakers in the state House overwhelmingly passing a bill on Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican, passed by a vote of 73-13, according to Cleveland.com, and it will now move to the state Senate for consideration. (Republicans hold the majority in both chambers.)

“This bill is a direct result of the needs and wants of the people of Ohio who are on the autism spectrum,” said Democratic state House Rep. Juanita Brent, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “It will help ensure legal access to a plant-based solution free from costly prescription medications or other outdated and sometimes harmful treatments.”

Should the measure ultimately become law, Ohio would join 17 other states that currently allow patients with autism to receive medical cannabis. Under the Buckeye State’s current medical marijuana law, patients with the following qualifying conditions may be eligible for the treatment: AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia, cancer, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or another seizure disorder, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable, Parkinson’s disease, positive status for HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, Spasticity, spinal cord disease or injury, terminal illness, Tourette syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and ulcerative colitis.

The bill would also represent a long-awaited breakthrough for advocates who have tried unsuccessfully for years to add autism to the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

In 2020, the Ohio State Medical Board rejected a petition to include autism and anxiety among the qualifying conditions.

The board received public comments from opponents and supporters of the proposal. Sarah Kincaid of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association said at the time that the “inclusion of autism and anxiety as conditions has the potential to negatively impact the health and well being of thousands of children in Ohio.”

Carrie Taylor, a mother with two sons who have autism, expressed frustration back then and wondered if autism would ever be covered by the state’s medical cannabis law.

“Our voice is not being heard right now,” Taylor said at the time. “These doctors have this thought in their mind, and they’re obviously set in stone where they stand. We’re not trying to give them something that’s not legalized with other medical purposes.”

Brent, the sponsor of the bill that passed out of the House this week, said in January that “if the legislature does not address the public outcry for change, I know it will be brought to the ballot box.”

In addition to Brent’s bill, the Ohio state Senate passed its own bill in December that could also open up medical cannabis treatment to patients with autism.

Under that bill, which was brought forward by a GOP state senator and is now being considered by a state House committee, physicians in Ohio could “recommend marijuana for treatment for any condition if the physician, in the physician’s sole discretion and medical opinion, finds either of the following”: “that the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana” and “that the patient may otherwise reasonably be expected to benefit from medical marijuana.”

The bill would also explicitly add arthritis, migraines, autism spectrum disorder, spasticity or chronic muscle spasms, hospice care or terminal illness, and opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions.

Should that bill become law, it would be the biggest change to Ohio’s medical cannabis program, which launched in 2016.

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South Carolina Senate To Debate Medical Cannabis Bill

South Carolina senators will debate a bill to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis this week after an eight-year effort to bring the proposal to the floor of the state Senate. If passed, Senate Bill 150 would allow patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical cannabis products. A companion measure, House Bill 3361, is also pending in the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Last week, Senators unanimously agreed to assign special order status to the bill, which faces strong opposition in deeply conservative South Carolina. As a legislative priority, senators will be required to approve or reject the bill before moving on to other legislation. Debate on the bill is expected to begin Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, according to media reports.

The measure, known as the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, was first proposed in 2015 by Republican Sen. Tom Davis. In 2018, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee advanced the bill to the Senate floor but senators opposed to the measure blocked the legislation from coming up for debate. At the close of the 2021 legislative session, Republican leaders promised Davis that the bill would come up for a vote this year.

“If you pound at the door long enough. If you make your case. If the public is asking for something, the state Senate owes a debate,” Davis told The Post and Courier. “The people of South Carolina deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this issue.”

South Carolina Medical Cannabis Bill Contains Strict Limits

The Compassionate Care Act would allow patients with one or more qualifying health conditions to use cannabis medicinally. Qualifying debilitating medical conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease or disorder (including epilepsy), sickle cell disease, glaucoma, PTSD, autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cachexia, a condition causing a person to be home-bound that includes severe or persistent nausea, terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year, a chronic medical condition causing severe and persistent muscle spasms or a chronic medical condition for which an opioid is or could be prescribed based on accepted standards of care.

Smoking cannabis would not be allowed. Instead, patients would have access to medical marijuana products including vaporizers, topicals, and patches. Patients would be allowed to purchase up to a two-week supply of cannabis products at a time.

The bill also establishes rules for physicians to recommend medical cannabis and regulations for the production and sale of medical marijuana, including a requirement that cannabis dispensaries complete a licensing process every two years. Dispensaries would be required to contract with a state-licensed pharmacist, physician’s assistant or clinical practice nurse with training in the medicinal use of cannabis. Cannabis products would be subject to testing and labeling requirements and a seed-to-sale tracking system would be established to monitor transfers of medical marijuana products. Davis said the legislation would create the nation’s strictest medicinal cannabis program.

“I want to empower physicians. I want to help patients who could benefit from cannabis to alleviate their medical conditions,” Davis told reporters. “But I want it to be tightly regulated and controlled. I don’t want it to be a precursor to adult recreational use.”

Advocates Back Legislation

The South Carolina Compassionate Care Act is supported by medical cannabis advocates including Jill Swing, the founder and president of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance. She believes her daughter would benefit from medical cannabis.

“Mary Louise shouldn’t have to continue to suffer and other patients across the state shouldn’t continue to suffer when this medication is available in 36 other states,” said Swing.

“I genuinely hope that every single Senator that walks into that chamber opens their minds and their hearts,” she added.

But Davis’ bill is opposed by law enforcement leaders, who cite public safety issues and the fear that permitting medical marijuana will lead to the legalization of recreational cannabis.

“If marijuana is medicine, it should be regulated as every other medicine is regulated. We are aware of no other medication that has to be approved by the General Assembly,” said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. “This (bill) includes a lot of other things — including vaping, including edibles. This is not going to your local pharmacy — it’s going to a dispensary. This is not being treated like every other medicine is.”

Kevin Tolson, the executive director of the law enforcement group, said in a statement that legalizing medical cannabis in South Carolina would lead to increased traffic accidents and financial crimes by cannabis businesses.

“I understand supporters of this bill are seeking to bring comfort and relief to friends and family members who are suffering from debilitating illnesses,” Tolson wrote. “But I can’t endorse or even ignore the attempt to provide relief through illegal methods, especially when those attempts will jeopardize public safety.”

Davis, however, believes that public opinion is on the side of reform. In December, a poll of 300 registered voters found that 54 percent favored legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis, with another 14 percent undecided on the issue.

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Everything you should know about CBD and how it can help you

Having questions, whether you’re an old or new cannabis user, is completely normal. It’s confusing when we talk about hemp, cannabidiol, CBD, cannabis and THC, and how they can all have different effects — especially when they are all linked back to cannabis. Here, we’ll go over everything you should know about CBD, and how […]

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CNN’s Sixth WEED Documentary Features the Benefits of Medical Cannabis for Autism

CNN announced on November 22 that it would be airing the sixth installment of its cannabis series, WEED 6: Cannabis and Autism, which explores the benefits between medical cannabis and symptoms of patients with autism in its debut this weekend. 

Featuring CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, this segment follows the traditional format of the previous WEED series to introduce viewers to firsthand experiences with medical cannabis benefits. “Autism, ASD for Autism Spectrum Disorder, is by definition a wide array of behaviors. Whether mild or severe, two core symptoms are social communication challenges and restrictive or repetitive behaviors,” CNN states in a press release. “In WEED 6: Cannabis and Autism, viewers will meet researchers, doctors, and families, some of whom are coming out publicly for the first time, and will see in real-time how life-changing the plant can be for them.”

The first WEED documentary released in 2013, and opened up an entirely new discussion on the stigma of weed. The honest headline of Gupta’s 2013 CNN article “Why I changed my mind on weed” directly opposed his 2009 TIME article “Why I would vote No on Pot.” 

In his 2013 article, Gupta apologizes for letting the cannabis stigma prevent him from seeing the plant’s true potential. “Well, I am here to apologize,” he wrote. “I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

In WEED, he brought the spotlight to Charlotte Figi, a young Colorado girl suffering from Dravet syndrome, who found relief with medical cannabis. She sadly passed away in 2020, but her example has inspired many other parents to seek out medical cannabis for their children.

It’s been eight years since that original documentary released, and Gupta has produced a total of six documentaries with a unique perspective on cannabis. In WEED 2: Cannabis Madness (2014) he dove into the complexities of politics when it comes to medical cannabis. WEED 3: The Marijuana Revolution (2015) continued to review the benefits of medical cannabis. WEED 4: Pot vs. Pills (2018) tackled the devastating effects of the opioid crisis, and how medical cannabis can help. Finally WEED 5: The CBD Craze (2019) explored the boom of CBD and the dangers of an unregulated market.

Since 2013, Gupta has been a strong proponent of medical cannabis, but his involvement isn’t limited to the WEED series. Most recently on October 13, 2021, he appeared on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience where he discussed his stance change on cannabis, and how he publicly came out stating that he was wrong about medical cannabis.

Gupta also provided insight about the problem with many medical studies now being conducted on cannabis. “If you’re just looking at papers—well, this one potential long harm, this one possible addiction, this one gateway—you know, you’re seeing all those individual studies, but at a broader level, one step upstream, you realize that most of the studies that are getting funded are designed to look for harm,” Gupta told Rogan. “When I saw that, that was the first time I thought, ‘well, why are the studies that are getting out there, why are they all designed to look for harm?” he said. “Then I started looking at other countries, and some really good research out of places like Israel in particular.”

WEED 6: Cannabis and Autism will debut on November 28 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN live, and can also be watched on the channel’s live streaming service, CNNgo.

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How Mitzva Wellness Became the First Kosher-Certified CBD Brand

For many, the journey to cannabis medicine comes after several painful years of trying seemingly ineffective pharmaceuticals. Shifra and Alex Klein know this all too well. After years of exhausting pharmaceutical treatments and therapies to treat their son’s severe autism, the Los Angeles-based Orthodox Jewish couple made the decision to switch to a more holistic approach – CBD. Unfortunately, what they found on the current CBD market was less than desirable.

DIY CBD

The Kleins are both children of the 80s, where rampant anti-drug propaganda had them “just saying no” to cannabis for most of their lives. But they easily moved past that mindset when they learned of cannabis’s potential to treat their child. They decided to bring up cannabis as an alternate treatment to the doctors they were seeing at UCLA, but they were quickly shut down. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the Kleins ventured off on their own and started exploring cannabis treatment options.

Shifra and Alex Klein

Having never tried cannabis, they were looking for transparency. They wanted to know exactly what the oil they would be giving their son was comprised of. They wanted to know where it came from, how it was extracted and if it was properly lab-tested. They finally came to the conclusion the only way to get safe, kosher oil for their son was to start from scratch and make it themselves. It took months of research and networking before they were ready to give it a real try. They started by making edibles at home with flower from local dispensaries.

At first it was a little awkward. “I am a religious looking guy,” says Alex, describing one of the first times he went to a Los Angeles dispensary. “The security guard is this big, biker looking dude with tattoos everywhere and a chain hanging out of his jeans and says ‘the temple’s down the street.’” Alex quickly broke through the presumptions about him once he began asking specific questions about the dispensary’s AC/DC and Harlequin strains. 

Once they practiced and refined their home extraction process (made via Crockpot) and went through numerous lab tests, The Kleins finally created a batch of CBD oil worth testing on their son and made cookies with it. The results were immediate. His cognition, attention span and language and motor skills all improved. Friends and acquaintances noticed the incredible positive changes and begged Shifra and Alex to make oil for their families, trusting the Klein’s integrity and kosher kitchen.

The First Kosher-Certified CBD Brand Under the Orthodox Union

Once word got out within their community that quality kosher edibles were being made to treat medical conditions, things began to snowball. 

“I ended up making so much medication for community members that I ended up not being at work at my real job,” said Shifra.

After receiving an overwhelming amount of positive feedback in 2017, Mitzva Wellness entered the market as the very first Kosher Certified CBD brand under the Orthodox Union (OU). Mitzva Wellness products can be purchased online and shipped to all 50 states. They are also available at various doctor’s offices, pharmacies and wellness centers nationwide.

Offerings include CBD tinctures, CBD topicals and terpene tinctures with kosher terpenes.

Mitzva Wellness’s products are effect-based, using specific terpene blends based on scientific research and published studies for maximum efficacy.

A big win for Mitzva was getting their brand certified kosher by the OU. This was a first for a cannabis brand. The Orthodox Union is the largest and most respected certifying agency for kosher products and until Mitzva, they refused certification to cannabis brands. “It took us close to 8 months of education on cannabis, extractions and debunking myths to get them on board,” said Shifra.

Mitzva also hopes to get their products Halal certified before the end of the year.

A Mitzva (Good Deed)

Mitzva Wellness has grown and evolved into a trusted brand in the kosher community, but moreover, the brand has bridged all communities by providing safe and effective CBD options for healing. As a result of their efforts, Alex and Shifra have helped destigmatize cannabis – especially for those in the Orthodox Jewish community.

“So many people that can benefit from cannabis refuse to try it because of the stigma attached,” Shifra said.  “Our family is an example of a typical family that would be put off by those falsehoods, and here we are not only medicating our children but providing it for the world.”

For someone just getting acquainted with cannabis, Mitzva Wellness is a wealth of information.

“Whatever we have learned over the past 6 years on our own journey, only becomes a mitzva when we share it with others,” said Shifra.

‘Mitzva’ means “good deed” in Hebrew and Mitzva Wellness practices the sentiment behind their name by giving back 10% of monthly sales to nonprofits, as well as, offering discount programs to healthcare workers, veterans and first responders.

The time they spend working with researchers on developing natural, terpene-rich formulas that are more effective than a basic CBD oil is just one of the ways the Kleins put their heart into their product. Their Mitzva is providing knowledge and guidance to those who are new to treating themselves or loved ones with cannabis.

Dedicated to community outreach, the Klein family works to break the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding cannabis/hemp use and points families toward trustworthy information in order to make informed decisions regarding their healing. Whether it’s answering dosing questions, finding a qualified physician or pointing them to community resources, Mitzva supports every step of their customer’s journey. The next step for Mitzva is expanding their community outward.

“Being able to reach other places in California is a really huge goal for us,” Shifra said. “I know that when Mitzva Wellness can be in other places and people have access, we can help more.”

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New Clinical Trial Will Examine Effects of Cannabis Compound on Autism

A New York clinical trial will study the effects of the cannabis compound cannabidivarin, or CBDV, on patients with autism, according to a report from CNN. The study at the Montefiore Medical Center will examine the effects of CBDV on irritability and repetitive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program and Anxiety and Depression Program at Montefiore Hospital and the lead researcher on the study, told CNN that previous research has shown that CBDV may have potential as a treatment for autism spectrum disorders.

“In some of the animal models that are similar to autism, it was found that CBDV had important effects on social functioning, on decreasing seizures, on increasing cognitive function, and in reducing compulsive or repetitive behavior,” Hollander said. “So for that reason, we wanted to apply that to autism.”

The CBDV formulation being used in the study is produced in the U.K. by GW Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the only FDA-approved cannabis medicine Epidiolex. The drug has been approved for use in the U.S. and European Union to treat two serious disorders that cause childhood epilepsy. Dr. Geoffrey Guy, the founder of GW, said that epilepsy and autism share some common symptoms.

“When you look at these—loss of cognitive function, poor socializing skills, poor language skills—what you’re looking at is a phenotype very similar to autism,” Guy told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview for the CNN special “Weed 5: The CBD Craze.” “In my mind, epilepsy and autism-type presentations are on the same continuum.”

Holand believes that autism and epilepsy may have similar underlying causes and says that CBDV has shown some success treating seizure disorders, giving him hope it may also be effective for autism patients.

“There’s some abnormal electrical activity even though they don’t have seizures, for example,” Hollander told Gupta. “And we had previously shown that when we give anticonvulsants that decrease the electrical activity, or the spikes, some of the disruptive behaviors, or the irritability, actually get better.”

“And that was one of our thoughts, why this CBDV could be helpful,” Hollander added. “Because if it helps with epilepsy and it helps in terms of decreasing the spike activity, we might also get improvement in the some of the aggression, or the self-injury, or the temper tantrums.”

Some Experts Wary About Cannabis

Dr. Alexander Kolevzon, the clinical director of the Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai who is not involved in the study, said that while he is encouraged by the potential of cannabis-based medications, it is still too early to tell if it’s an effective medication for patients with autism spectrum disorder.

“The field of autism has a long history of enthusiasm for many treatments based on small pilot studies and anecdotal accounts,” Kolevzon said. “However, often when these treatments are tested rigorously in larger studies, the benefits are not significantly different than that of placebo.”

Montefiore Medical Center is currently recruiting volunteers to participate in the study. Participants must be children 5 to 18 years old with autism spectrum disorder.

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How Conservative Mom Mieko Hester-Perez Became a Global Cannabis Advocate

Mieko Hester-Perez wasn’t planning on being an advocate for cannabis growing up in Orange County, California. That is, until life put her on a path she never otherwise would have embarked on.

Cannabis was never an option for Mieko, as a child or as an adult. The legal services professional comes from a conservative family and embraces such beliefs to this day. Her extended family represents several slices of conservative values. They include three pastors, numerous uncles in the LAPD (some serving in the narcotics division), and her brother, a high-ranking firefighter.  

While remaining conservative, Mieko Hester-Perez has fully embraced the progressive cannabis movement. Over the past decade, she has used her upbringing and beliefs to introduce an array of people to medical cannabis while advocating for families like her own. 

However, Hester-Perez would not be in this position if it weren’t for her son, Joey. Born with severe autism, Joey often struggled with daily life. This included a wasting syndrome that left him at 46 pounds when he was ten years old. In addition to appetite struggles, Joey would harm himself on occasion during outbursts. 

She knew that Joey’s diagnosis meant that a 9-to-5 job would not allow her to support Joey or her older daughter. Instead, Mieko Hester-Perez opened her own business, CA Corp & Attorney Services. Always one to conduct thorough research, Hester-Perez searched for treatment options while caring for her family and running a business. Her work put her in contact with doctors performing then-controversial cannabis treatments. Soon enough, she felt that Joey could benefit from such treatments. 

Finding Success in Cannabis

Edibles allowed Joey’s appetite to change soon after consuming. His aggressive and self-injurious behavior subsided. Hester-Perez became a believer in cannabis. She wanted to do more for other families like her own. The legal advisor and advocate said that Joey became the biggest case she’s ever taken on. She explained why she decided to fight for Joey and others’ access to cannabis.

“I believe in [cannabis] so much. I was actually able to extend my son’s life. And once you save one life, it becomes contagious,” the mother and advocate explained. 

Hester-Perez took her family’s story to the media. In 2009, an appearance on Good Morning America amplified the saga families like her own were going through. Stories like Joey and Mieko’s further normalized medical cannabis use, especially for those unlikely to support the cause otherwise. 

Since the GMA appearance, Mieko has continued to share Joey’s relationship with medical cannabis on scores of news outlets in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and on several major online outlets.  

Her legal experience would grow in the cannabis space, as would her advocacy know-how. In time, Hester-Perez would become an influential figure in the medical cannabis community across the globe. The self-described “autism warrior mom” embraced a role as a healthcare advocate. She took a particular interest in family courts, ensuring children receive proper cannabis care. 

Other efforts include the co-founding of The Unconventional Foundation for Autism (UF4A), an advocacy and support network for families. At UF4A, Hester-Perez consults families, autism organizations, universities and the healthcare community. 

Hester-Perez joined the advisory board for the bottle design, manufacturing, brand and sales company Acology Inc. The partnership led to the creation of an FDA-approved child-resistant container which would store the autism-spectrum specific strain of cannabis named after her son. 

In the following years, Hester-Perez’s insights and influence would flourish. The mom and advocate would join boards, including the NORML Women’s Alliance and the Economic & Policy Impact Center. 

Mieko Hester-Perez: A Lauded and Awarded Activist

Hester-Perez would earn accolades over the years for her efforts. They include the 2012 Evelyn DuPont Award for her work improving the lives of children with autism. Other achievements include the 2016 Chalice Festival lifetime advocate award.  

Hester-Perez also credits the wisdom passed on by leaders in the space for helping her spread the word while learning about a once-foreign community to her. “I was very lucky to be able to work with some of the greats in the industry…the Kyle Kushmans and the Ed Rosenthals; the pioneers of this entire industry.” 

She added, “I received a crash course like no one in the entire industry could have, having no experience with cannabis at all.”

Crash courses are no longer needed for Hester-Perez. Her expertise eventually brought her to Israel, where she’d form lasting connections with a number of groups, including mothers and business ventures. She recalled the impact speaking at an international event like CannaTech 2017 had on her. Calling the experience “eye opening,” Hester-Perez said, “At that time, I had been on every major network. I traveled all over the country. But now I’m in Israel. This is unbelievable.” 

Calling the experience “magical,” Hester-Perez recalled bonding with the mothers. “They were fighters. They were everything that I was when I had went public in 2009.” She added, “I immediately had a bond with Israel.”

Her connection to Israel would be further cemented when she linked up with the medical cannabis company Tikun Olam at CannaTech 2017. The company began as a non-profit in 2005 by founder Tzahi Cohen after requesting the country allow him to grow 100 plants for the country’s medical cannabis patients. Mieko Hester-Perez began serving as a spokesperson for the company. She calls the role “the best pay it forward for me.” In 2019, she joined the company where she recommends the products, along with the strain Avidekel, in autism protocols. 

While cannabis improved and lengthened Joey’s life, he sadly passed away in April of 2018. Mieko has chosen not to speak much about her son’s passing with the public since. However, she has continued to work in legal services, where she provides professional and advocacy advice. She also serves as a healthcare liaison for Wellness Works, a consulting firm adjacent to the Kannabis Works dispensary in Santa Ana, California. 

Mieko Hester-Perez now hopes to use her experience and her family’s story as inspiration in other countries. In addition to the U.S. and Israel, she is now working on an autism protocol in her ancestral Puerto Rico.

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