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LA's medical marijuana program to reach more people

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

More Louisianans will be able to use medical marijuana to treat chronic illnesses and ailments thanks to an expansion in the state's program. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed two bills into law earlier this month. 

"I think it's pretty amazing that I'm sitting here asking for marijuana for my children," said Katelyn Castleberry.

Katelyn Castleberry used to think of marijuana as just another street drug until she had Bodi and Ramsey.

Just a year apart, they both struggle with autism. Ramsey's is more debilitating, and his sensory-seeking behavior can prove life-threatening.

Castleberry calls them tears.

"Eating non-food items, smashing light bulbs, ripping pictures off the wall, climbing to the roof of the house, climbing over the fence, jumping into Lake Pontchartrain," explained Castleberry. 

Yet, Castleberry says the current alternatives are almost just as dangerous. Medications like benzodiazepines and stimulants can cause seizures, suicide, even Parkinson's disease.

"The side effects are immeasurable, and can be lifelong and extremely debilitating and deadly," said Castleberry. "You're risking everything no matter which choice you make. There's no safe choice."

In her search for the most cutting-edge treatment, Castleberry came across medical marijuana but never thought it'd be available in Louisiana. That is, until Rep. Rodney Lyons introduced a bill that would allow physicians to prescribe cannabis for autism.

"The process began, and it was a very - I want to say, a very life-changing experience," said Lyons. 

Lyons has a family member with autism and has seen it's effects first-hand.

"If you're a parent, relative or a caretaker, you can't experience normal quality of life, even sitting in church," Lyons said. 

He began advocating for the measure and connecting with people like Castleberry.

"I get a little bit of the chills right now, but it was very much meant to be, and that it possibly could become a reality for us. It didn't have to be a curiosity," Castleberry said.

After it cleared the Legislature, Gov. Edwards signed the bill into law, adding autism to the ailments that can be treated with medical cannabis. He also signed the medical marijuana expansion program which adds glaucoma, PTSD and Parkinson's to the list.

"I have a responsibility to try to improve the quality of life for everybody in the state, so when you start talking about what's good for people, you have to put those people first," Lyons said. 

While medical cannabis hasn't been proven to help everyone with autism, Castleberry hopes it will help Ramsey live a more normal life.

"So he could talk, so he could be soothed, so he could be comfortable in his skin and his life, so he could navigate this world without the dangers that autism presents. It would be wonderful," said Castleberry. "Dare to dream."

The expansion program goes into effect August 1, with cannabis set to be available later this summer. Medical marijuana will be available in oils, pills and sprays but not in a form that can be smoked. Nine pharmacies have been selected throughout the state and a handful of doctors have received permission to dispense it. 
 

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