Medical marijuana debate in RI shifts focus to autism


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Nicole Cervantes says her son with autism used to bang his head so hard, his forehead was sphere-shaped.

Months after she started giving him cannabis compound CBD, she says her son’s behavior changed.

“He has been able to focus more,” Cervantes testified at a public hearing Monday. “He no longer bangs his head.”

Cervantes was one of two parents who spoke at a Department of Health hearing considering if doctors should be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to those with autism. Cervantes and another parent argue autism qualifies as a debilitating medical condition.

Right now, medical marijuana can only be prescribed for a handful of conditions in Rhode Island like cancer, seizures, glaucoma and PTSD.

Hasbro Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Randal Rockney was the only other person to testify. He sided with the parents. “A trial of such a medication to manage the behavioral manifestations of autism spectrum disorder would be a good idea.”

Dr. Henry Sachs did not testify at the hearing, but as the Medical Director of Bradley Hospital sent Eyewitness News a statement after a WPRI request. 

“As health care providers, we rely heavily on research findings to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of any new treatment,” Sachs said. “Of course, those standards would need to be met around the use of marijuana treatment for patients with autism. Research is currently lacking in that area.”

A spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health says Director Nicole Alexander-Scott now has 180 days to review the proposal and research before making a decision.

Cervantes hopes that decision will allow her to treat her son with CBD.

“If I don’t fight for him, who does he have?” Cervantes said.

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