House committee approves medical marijuana for autistic children, under supervision

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - People with certain types of autism will be able to get medical marijuana under a measure that passed its first legislative test Wednesday.

The bill passed in spite of concerns that the FDA hasn't done enough study.

With medical marijuana pharmacies popping up across Louisiana in four months, a legislative committee considered an expansion of who may buy it.

Autism spectrum disorder is a spectrum, and for kids in the more severe category they need help," said John Vanchierre, M.D., who heads up the Louisiana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The house health and welfare committee okayed  a measure to allow people with autism spectrum disorders, who may engage in self-injuring behavior or seizures, to receive marijuana prescriptions. But it was no slam dunk.

"If the FDA hasn't approved this for treatment, who are we? Why are you qualified?" said Rep. Dodie Horton, (R-Haughton).

The head of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said there hasn't been enough study.

"Allowing medical marijuana to be used, without FDA standards, is not appropriate. This is a safety issue," said Vanchierre.

He also testified that there needs to be more clinical trials because medical marijuana for all children is not risk free. He says it can cause harm to developing brains, as well as other problems.

"Some kids are more prone to seizures if they have medical marijuana," said Vanchierre.

But others say the risks are minimal, including a doctor who testified about his own marijuana use to deal with his own cancer.

"Cannabis is a safe medicine. 900 people died last year from acetominophine. None from cannabis," said cardiologist Dr James Smith.

"Autism can cause a burden and there are few treatment options. And the one out there has horrible side effects," said Rep. Rodney Lyons, (D-Harvey)

But some, weren't convinced.

"Until the experts figure this out, I don't think we're qualified to," said Horton.

In the end, the committee voted 9 to 4 in favor of an amended expansion of who may qualify for medical marijuana under the direction of a pediatric specialist who would be required to monitor results.

One reason doctors say there aren't enough studies on the effectiveness of medical marijuana is federal law.

They say few institutions want to perform the studies because they don't want to put their universities or medical centers at risk.

The measure now goes to the full house.

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