Today over at Science-Based Medicine, Dr. Novella has a review of the so-called “biomed” movement in autism treatment. Anyone should be able to understand the desperation of parents with sick kids, but grief can lead to very bad decisions. As physicians, one of our jobs is to guide people away from these decisions and not to give false hope. Telling people what they want to hear might make you as a caregiver feel good, but as physicians, our goal is not to make ourselves feel good but to help others.
It pained me to read this story about a mom who gets her autistic son stoned. As a father I can only imagine the devastation of not being able to communicate with my child, but I hope that my better judgment would keep me from feeding her pot.
But it’s not the mom’s poor judgment that upsets me the most—it’s her report that she found a doctor willing to help her. There are no studies to support the use of cannabis to treat the symptoms of autism, and given the potential harm of exposing an already neurologically-impaired child unknown doses of a powerfully psychoactive substance, this could be easily construed as child abuse. Additionally, any doctor who would recommend the use of cannabis on an autistic child would find little sympathy from me if he were hauled up in front of a medical board or better yet, a judge. The only reason this is any better than the case of the religious wackos who prayed while they watched their daughter die of diabetes is that its unlikely that pot will kill the child. But imagine being autistic, being unable to separate out various stimuli and communicate effectively, and then suddenly finding yourself feeling strange, not knowing why, perhaps even suffering from a severe anxiety reaction, not uncommon with acute cannabis intoxication. That’s not death, but it is torture.