tv CNN Special Report CNN December 19, 2021 5:00pm-6:00pm PST
tablet or phone, just go to cnn.com. your donation in any amount will help them help others. thank you. thank you for joining me this evening. i am pamela brown. see you again next weekend . one plant, more than 400 compounds, we know can treat different ailments, but one, autism, it can be delays, and sometimes injuring themselves. a cure, elusive.
more than a dozen states have app approved cannabis to treat autism, and for some it's the jackpot. >> ready? >> time for drops. >> but for others, it's a gamble. >> every day i give the medicine to my daughter is a potential for me ending up with a felony. >> what if it was your child? would you take the risk? an ancient plant to treat a mysterious disorder of the brain. this is "weed 6: marijuana and autism." >> you're about to see kara's life. i do want to warn you, this will be hard to watch.
kara has severe autism. >> kara, stop it. stop. >> her fits are dangerous, frequent and disturbingly violent. >> i decided to journal all of her hitting. i started back in 2016. >> this is her mother, christie. we met up at their home in texas. >> closed fisted punches to her face. hold her down -- >> aggression and self injuryious. >> the chief of pediatric neurology. >> even children higher functioning will have self
ajuryious behaviors. >> is there any idea why that happens as part of the autism spectrum? >> it may be very similar to a lot of the other repetitive behaviors that they have. >> autism, asd for autism spectrum disorder, is by definition a wide array of behaviors. but mild, more severe, the two core symptoms are social communication challenges, and one-third are nonverbal and second, repetitive behaviors, like rocking, flapping or even hitting. particularly challenging for the zartlers, hitting people, including themselves, making life unimaginebly challenging for kara and her parents.
but life has never been easy for kara. >> i went and did the blood test and my levels were high, and they said, oh, you are pregnant. >> after years of battling infertility, christie was pregnant with twins. >> it was 21 weeks gestation, i feel the pain immediately. >> you were in coherent. >> he found me with my head on my sink area and i had already vomited and was already unconscious, and i had a stroke. >> it would be touch and go for 72 hours, doctors monitoring hers and the babies' every move, and then five days after the stroke, christie's water broke. >> when they came out of the -- they were so small, they were just so tiny. >> baby a, named keely, was off the ventilator in two weeks and
had no complications from the premature birth, but baby b, kara, would struggle from the very beginning. at ten hours old, she had a brain bleed, yet after months of round the clock care in the nicu, kara finally came home and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. they thought this would be her biggest challenge. christie kept careful tract of her daughter's progress as he learned to walk and talk. by october of 2002, kara was almost three years old. >> in october of 2002, the list ends. >> yeah, right. i heard her say mama. >> i know it's hard to imagine
that. >> i do hear her in my dreams. so that's -- that's hurtful. >> i can imagine. i'm so sorry. i'm so sorry. as the words stopped, the hitting started. >> from age four to age six was really hard, because we would take turns on who was going to hold and lay with her and make sure she's not going to punch her face and break her nose and break her eye sockets. the developmental pediatricians say it's autism. >> and that was around age four? >> uh-huh. >> what was that like to hear? >> terrifying. i knew nothing about it. >> what christie would learn, there's no cure or effective
treatments. kara is completely nonverbal. one night she repeatedly hit herself for 12 hours nonstop. >> we needed to go a different direction, and the anti-psychotics, that's when they started, right after that. >> kara started taking powerful drugs often used for adults and adolescence with psychiatric disorders. >> they just changed it from a constant to an every 15-minute kind of thing. >> definitely an improvement, but with a tremendous cost. mark says the drugs left kara unable to do anything, not present or aware of her surroundings. the little girl they longed for, that little toddler full of words and smiles was lost to them. >> it's permanent grief. >> yeah. >> she was robbed of a life. >> a life her parents would do
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zartler were no longer working. >> the pharmacist said this is the highest dose i ever have seen a 45-pound person on, this is equivalent to a 2,000 pound horse. >> kara was in school at that time with 3,000 hits a day. >> you heard that right. she would hit herself 3,000 times in a seven-hour school day, and that's more than seven strikes every minute. the thing about a story like this -- >> when i eat something -- >> -- it defines you. one day the neighbor recommended cannabis, and not cbd, which now has become more commonly accepted as a medicine, but thc, the psych yo active part of the plant that gets you high or stoned, he said. he thought that thc might help
him calm kara. they were willing to try anything, but their home state of texas has the most restrictive cannabis laws. >> it's illegal. it has to be illegal for a reason. >> it took us a long time to get over the stigma. >> a stigma that this woman also understands all too well. >> when we first started nobody thought of using cannabis in a pediatric setting. >> an award-winning novelist wrote about giving her son cannabis, but only now was she willing to sit down to talk about it and introduce us to jason, who she calls jay. >> i think one of the biggest mischaracterizations that i got was, oh, you don't want to deal with your kid, you are drugging your kid. >> ironic.
even hypocritical she said, because the medications that were prescribed for jay were stronger than cannabis. >> they were essentially, tra tranquilizers, they are kind of a chemical lobotomy. >> like the zartlers, marie tried all the conventional medicine to help her son, and none of it worked and it was brutal. >> as soon as he got home, he would start to scream, whale and as a person, he didn't want to be touched. he had a lot of aggressions. he would attack us all the time. >> the college professor and award-winning writer used her skills to search for answers. consistently her research kept leading her back to cannabis,
but jay's neurologist was initially reluctant to even consider it. >> he was very worried that if he helped us get a license by prescribing it that if it ever got out that he was prescribing pot, that was going to look very bad for him. >> i remember, it was 2008, barely a dozen states legalized medicinal cannabis, afederally t was still illegal, and the thought of giving it to a child, unimaginable. but they were lucky, they lived in rhode island where cannabis was legal. >> he was probably the youngest person in the nation to have a cannabis license. >> with that license in hand, marie was able to access cannabis from a grower in rhode island. but she was still nervous. there was no road map for a strain or a particular dosage. >> i am a big guidelines person,
so not having a protocol was probably the most difficult part for me, because what am i doing? >> so what marie decided to do, make herself the guinea pig. she would try different strains and doses first, and then if she felt okay she would give them to her son. >> this is my diary -- >> she shared a journal entry from one of the earlier days. >> i feel abject joy and jay can feel it, too. >> wow. >> how weird and random. and this is, jay has zero aggressions. >> and then jay's story inspired others to try cannabis, including the zartlers. it was on a car ride like this when the zartlers first tried
marijuana, and rides before cannabis they never even dreamed of taking because this would happen. >> we're going home. >> but one day in june of 2009, they had no choice. kara had an important doctor's appointment five hours away in galveston, texas. christie and mark decided to try the marijuana brownies their neighborhood had made. >> i just gave it to her and she ate it. it was about an hour where she was sitting -- no longer rocking and no longer hand slapping or hitting, and she's sitting there looking out the window and looking at me and smiling. it was like a miracle. >> i got to see it up close when i went on a drive with them after kara had a dose of cannabis. >> we would never be able to do this. >> this is an easier life for
everybody. >> yes. >> an easier life, but one that would ultimately put their whole family in jeopardy. that story is later. but first why would it work? how would it work? unraveling the science of cannabis and autism. ...that led... ...to this one. celebrate every kiss, with kay. this is your home. this is your family room slash gym. the guest bedroom slash music studio. the daybed slash dog bed. the living room slash yoga shanti slash regional office slash classroom. and this is the basement slash panic room. maybe what your family needs is a vacation home slash vacation home.
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in jerusalem, in a modest apartment lives a larger than life presence in the cannabis world. our visit, while not in person because of covid is a virtual reunion with a 91-year-old doctor. >> it's been quite a long time since you were here. >> i met him a decade ago when we first started on this journey, and he's one of the scientists that changed my mind about cannabis as a medicine. his discovery of thc in the 1960s has him poised to win the nobel peace prize. so i had to get his thoughts.
can you give us an idea of how it came to be when you were thinking about cannabis to treat autism. >> i strongly believe on the basis of what we have seen in animal models and people that use a cannabis and the affects are definitely positive. we should look at the clinical trials and the doses. this is one of the fields that is very promising. >> across town in jerusalem, another research doing the exact clinical trials. >> you led the world's first clinical trial looking at cannabis and autism. what did you find? >> the first study was an open-label study, and we knew there would be some placebo affect, but we were surprised
that most parents reported it substantially helped their children, not only for the disruptive behavior but also for the social sdeficits. >> doctors in california were paying attention to all of this, intrigued by the research. >> there is some evidence that cbd may be helpful. >> so grant and the doctor launched their own study here at the center for cannabis research here in san diego. >> it's called a double blind placebo controlled crossover study, and each child gets placebo at one point and cbd at one point and nobody knows when. >> they had a story on the news that they were looking for participants. at one point i had a lot of
bruises on me because he was getting more violent. >> joan's son was diagnosed with autism when he was 22 months old. >> i heard it compared to losing a child, and you lose the idea of the lie you were going to have, and the earthlife he was to have. >> she tried everything they could think of to help her son. >> we tried homeopathic -- >> you have tried psych tropeic medications? >> i didn't want to try any of those because there were so many side effects. >> but for joan, when it came to side effects, cannabis was different. >> i saw how much it could help other people, and i thought, i mean, it's all natural, and
there may not be any real side effects with it, why not try it? >> so joan moved forward enrolling ezra in the clinical trial. >> what will i do if he continues to go if i am already having trouble with the aggression now. >> carlos was enrolled in a similar trial in new york. a double blind study where cbdv, which is similar to cbd. i met the lead researchers, dr. eric hollander, when the study first launched in 2019. >> how optimistic are you that this is going to work? >> 50/50. >> how much potential do you really think is here for cbdv to treat autism? >> i think the big advantages are it may have less side
effects than other medicines that are used to treat severe disruptive behavior. >> in a sign of how quickly things changed, when this trial began two years ago, cbdv was still considered a schedule one drug and had to be locked in this safe. >> ready carlos? >> skirt it on the side of your mouth, okay? >> when you talk about the ups and downs, i mean, how low has it gone? >> pretty low. low enough that he attacked me, but what he's going through, sometimes i have to think for him and myself. >> somebody said there's something that could help treat autism. how would it help you? >> probably i don't have to worry about getting angry, and i
would be pretty happy about that. >> often time the headline is my kid is taking a cannabis drug, and some people would say, i can't believe you did that? >> i would be, i am trying to find something that will help my child because at the end of the day, that's my child and i am thinking for the future, for him. >> that's what we heard again and again. maribel and carlos -- >> these look so nice. >> marie and jay. >> there we go. >> the zartlers and kara. >> i remember them being desperate and in need of some help and really needing some balance for kara and for their own lives. >> remember, none of this comes easy. the zartlers' story takes a frightening turn, when we come back. >> there we go.
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it's busy and she needs cannabis to help her slow down and focus. mark gets her medication ready. >> i put a quarter teaspoon. >> he starts filling up what he calls kara's marijuana machine. it's a vapor. it heats up the cannabis flower turning it into a vapor which kara can inhale. it's the fastest way to get it into her system, they tell me. >> wait. >> kara is eager. look at her. she seems to know what is coming. >> ready? okay, let's mellow out. >> there you go. >> she starts to settle down. at one point even clapping. >> it's like, thank you, sir.
>> seeming to thank them for the medicine she has received. take a look. it seems to help her focus a bit and take the edge off. >> it's wonderful. she's aware now and she has the skills to assist and do more. it's phenomenal. i keep thinking i will hear her talk. i am having dreams she will speak to me. >> she's clearly not harming herself, hitting herself. >> she's happy. >> she took to it real quick in the sense that she's like, i feel better. >> i want to be clear, it doesn't end-all of her symptoms, but it helps. christie believes they could have better results if they had more options. >> i would like to have the ability to go back and forth and try multiple strengths to see what would work best for her. we're just -- >> not in a position to do that.
>> because of the law? >> because of the law, yeah. >> for now, their source is underground. a grower they met years ago when kara was a young child. >> i remember them being desperate and in need of some help. >> we found kara's secret supplier, who was willing to meet with us as long as we disguise their identity and did not reveal the location. >> we just started testing together very conservatively, and documenting the strains and how they worked for carekara, a looking at the ones that were best for her. >> how did you start to put the puzzle pieces together for something that was totally new like this? >> there's a lot of groups and forums on the internet where autism parents use cannabis as medicine. >> this is jason's earlier card where -- >> marie is one of those parent
pioneers who has been posting and sharing what has worked for jay over the years, as one of the youngest people with a legal medicare marijuana card, marie and jay were able to try all sorts of strains and document it all. >> he has been given a ton of cannabis. one cookies, two cookies. >> but there was a problem, because once they found something that works they worried it would not be supplied. this is a plant dependant on ethical growers and mother nature. there were many times crops got destroyed or growers simply disappeared. that's a scary proposition if you are a parent whose child is now dependent on cannabis to make his life more liveable. >> when the grower's plants died because of the insect
infestation, we just saw so completely how it was helping him. >> if this all sounds audacious, overwhelming even, it is. just because it worked for jay does not mean it would necessarily work for another child, no matter how similar they are. there's not yet the data. there aren't the studies as of now. there isn't the confidence to plunge forward. >> it's not a good idea to run out and buy it and just try to use it on your own. it's not clear what dose is the best dose if it does work. also whether what you are buying really has the dose you think it does, because it's unregulated. and then the final thing is that you don't know what else is in that bottle. there could be pesticides, there could be other toxins that we just don't know about. >> and so the story repeats
itself. parents left with new, even well-founded hope but little direction when it comes to cannabis and their children. marie made the tough decision to go public, while the zartlers kept their secret for years, but that's about to change peufplt by the way, did anybody say don't do this? the shocking turn in this story, when we come back. ♪ you pour your heart into everything you do, which is a lot. so take care of that heart with lipton. because sippin' on unsweetened lipton can help support a healthy heart.
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what you are watching in real time is what happens when kara zartlers needs to be rescued by cannabis. it's hard to watch but the zartlers want to you see this. the repetitive hitting associated with her autism seems to vanish. >> be calm. >> her mind and body slowly seem to relax and calm, something no other medicine could do for her. >> i did not tell her physicians until she was 14. i took her medicated to her neurologist and he sad there in awe and said i'm not going to chart this. this won't go in her chart, but
i think if you have this positive of a result you need to continue with this medicine for her. >> a medicine that keeps kara from hurting herself, but is also illegal in texas. >> there was a guilty feeling that i had that was associated, and there was also a fear of consequences. >> when kara turned 17 the zartlers decide they don't want to keep their secret anymore. they believe the only way to create change is to share her story. did anybody say don't do this? >> yes. >> who? >> everyone. >> everyone. family members? >> yeah, they all did. friends. >> because they were worried about the reaction -- >> consequences. it was, well, you will end up in jail over this.
>> that's when they decided to have christie film kara throwing a fit, and mark giving her the cannabis and they post it on facebook and it goes viral. the story makes local and national news. >> on the front page of the sunday paper. >> and people take notice. >> somebody in our town saw it on the local news and called 911. >> and so does child protective services. >> didn't take long, cps, knock, knock, knock, and she said i need to talk to my supervisor. we established a cps case with you and you will hear from us again. >> ms. moorhead is there attorney. two agencies you do not want to knock on your door. the first is the fbi. the second is cps. cps can petition for termination
of parental rights, and what i describe that as is the death penalty of family law. >> having a good day? >> moorehead's primary goal is to keep kara at home with her parents. >> my strategy was to impress upon cps is, one, there was no imminent danger. removing kara from the home would more than likely put kara in a facility. >> two choices were let her harm herself -- >> this was not a decision that the zartlers took lightly. >> there you go. i was prepared to go to court over whatever at the did. >> it's a story we've heard before, families willing to risk everything to help their child.
a story one doctor also knows, and he's an er physician who believes in cannabis as a medicine and understands the gap between cannabis and science and is willing to bridge that gap. >> it was not caught in medical. it's the system that provides the key behind why a lot of our disease processes are resistant to allow us to heal completely. >> what would you like to use medical marijuana for? >> for pain, and -- >> she helps patients who qualify for medical cannabis in texas, and she's working with a lobbying organization that is targeting lawmakers. >> as the cannabis industry continues to grow it runs the risk of leaving patients behind,
so they could maintain the focus that patients should be the center. >> you are a conservative? >> i am a conservative, a republican. >> this often seems like an issue conservatives don't often get behind. >> that is true, but i am also a data driven person because of my health care background. >> she may seem like an unlikely champion for can nabis. she allowed patients with uncontrollable epilepsy to use cbd as a medicine. >> it's difficult for a family to live life normally when you have a child have 100 seizures a day. >> how hard was it to get that bill passed in 2015? >> it was very difficult. we were not sure we were going to get a hearing on it. >> four years later she helped
to expand the law on it, to help terminal cancer and, yes, autism. it was a big step forward but the thc limits was too low to help families like the zartlers. >> what would you say to them? >> i would warn them what the ramifications are in the law, and as a mother myself i would move heaven and earth to make something better for my child if they were suffering. >> this session she's pushing to add more health conditions and raise the thc level from .5 to 5%. it's a bill the zartlers are watching very closely, because it would allow them to legally give that higher thc dose to kara. >> every day that i give the medicine to my daughter is a potential day for me ending up with a felony. >> the fight to keep their daughter, when we come back.
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with great hope. the legislature, which meets every two years, is voting on a new bill that would enhance legal access to medical cannabis, going from .5% to 5%, ten times stronger. it's potentially life changing for the zartlers, and it's the higher thc strain that helps kara. while child protective services did allow mark and christie to maintain kara, they still feel like they are taking a risk every time they medicate their daughter. >> your luck runs out eventually, and we're going to get into trouble unless we could get the law changed. >> that part greatly concerns me because these are parents that love their child, and they are taking great sacrifices to
protect her, keep her safe and address her needs. >> that's what representative click's bill does. >> i call her the queen of cannabis. >> mark watches from the house gallery. >> instead of the impassioned debate on the floor like he expected, the bill passes. >> almost done. ready? one more. >> the bill still does have to go to the senate, and mark worries it won't receive the same support there. >> we need more and more research. >> so this is it. >> but after decades of being ignored, stigmatized, there's increasingly more research in the united states as well. >> start off with 130 milligrams. >> there's the study in new york that we first started following in 2019, and it's slowly coming
to fruition. we first met carlos and his mother, maribel, two years ago. >> during that trial he became more friendlier. >> i was more calm with me on the medication. overall, it did have a nice positive affect on me. >> do you think of yourself as a cannabis researcher? >> tap, tap -- >> there's also labs in california that we showed you earlier, and answers from there are slowly arriving. >> we're seeing some pretty impressive changes. >> when you say seeing some impressive changes, what do you mean? >> children's who aggressive behavior was daily and it's gone away, and i mean, gone away. a lot of the kids are more social. >> so what do we got? >> a kiss. >> what is the purple one?
>> he's more easy to work with, and can we do this? >> ezra is more patient, not hitting and not excitable. able to attend school. and at home he's doing things joann never dreamed possible. like cooking. and singing. so what is going through your mind at this point? >> i'm getting my baby back. i'm getting my boy back. >> we can set up the dinosaurs -- >> as we were talking, there was something still nagging at me. do you feel your expectations are influencing how you think he's doing? >> yes and no. i don't know how he started changing and i don't know how he started communicating and how he started being reasonable and stopped being aggressive.
>> he eats plants -- >> changes that have continued long after ezra stopped taking the study drugs almost a year ago. >> he has had no regression whatsoever. i don't think it's a cure, but i think it's going to make it easier for him, you know, easier for him to live. >> interestingly, these were the same kind of long-term changes jay also experienced. >> i don't know if i would use the word heal, but it's helping him become more himself. he has a right to be healthy and to be happy and to feel joy, and this is certainly helped him do that, and that's all i can ask for. >> i want to be very clear again, nobody is saying there's a cure for autism, and this isn't either, but the idea that cannabis might not just treat the symptoms of autism but also repair and even protect the brain is something that came up again and again with the scientists i spoke to.
>> i don't know. all i can tell you in terms of concrete things is that some of the kids who have shown an effect on whatever they are taking show it for several weeks after the study drug is taken away, and some seem to maintain some improvement, but i don't know why that would be. i think it certainly is important to continue studying it to try and figure out how it works, if it does. >> until then it's still an uphill battle in texas. ultimately the thc part of click's bill was doomed when it got to the senate. the levels only raised to 1%. >> my intent then and still is to have a truly medical program that follows the scientific data. people are concerned that this could lead into recreational abuse. >> the conservative lawmaker and
grandmother to a boy with autism is not giving up. >> i'm trying to move the ball a little further down the road. >> human beings are impatient, especially understandably when it comes to the care of our children. but sometimes the roads are aurg wus and long, and they take time and there's no end in sight. yet the zartlers can still take immense joy that they can now travel the road at all. no longer afraid about what lies ahead. >> it's just a miracle. it's just nothing short of a miracle for me. >> their story is out there now for the world to see. >> i know you're having fun. >> and they are at peace with that. they once believed they would lose their child and now revel with their belief every day that instead she was found with the help of a plant.