TV review: “Weed 6” with Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Marijuana and Autism

Perhaps no other mainstream figure has been as important an advocate for the compassionate medical applications of cannabis as Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Once an opponent to the movement, Gupta not only eventually did an about face, but he’s dedicated a great deal of time and energy to spreading the word, most visibly with his CNN “Weed” special reports, the sixth of which recently aired. This time around his aim is to highlight the effects of medical marijuana on children with autism, and the special is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Though the hour spends time with several different families and showcases children at different places on the autism spectrum, Gupta focuses the bulk of the report on the Zartler family, who reside in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, Texas. Their daughter Kara, one half of a pair of twins that were born prematurely, was diagnosed autistic at age 4. Parents Christy and Mark live in what can only be described as a nightmare. Any parent who watches this story and puts themselves in the shoes of this family couldn’t possibly think otherwise. Kara engages in self injurious behavior – hitting herself for sometimes hours at a time. She is unable to speak and communication with her is almost non-existent. She screams and howls. She is a tragic human being, and to know that both she and her family must deal with this for the rest of her life is heartbreaking.

The psychotropic drugs Kara used to take, typically prescribed for schizophrenics, left her unable to do anything or even be aware of her surroundings. When a neighbor suggested the Zartlers try cannabis they were nervous and skeptical…until Kara ate a cannabis infused brownie baked by the neighbor, and they saw drastic improvements, including no hitting and no screaming. From there the Zartler’s MMJ journey took off, and today the typical dose Kara takes is a quarter teaspoon of cannabis, which she inhales through a desktop vaporizer. When Kara turned 17, the Zartlers decided to go public by posting a video on YouTube of Kara inhaling her medicine and the immediate obvious results went viral, even landing the family on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News.

Of course, Texas being the most hostile state in the country toward cannabis has brought its own problems to the Zartlers, including visits from CPS. And the Zartlers understand that cannabis will never “cure” their daughter, only make it easier for her (and them by extension) to live. Gupta also traces Texas rep Stephanie Klick’s ongoing attempts to get the legal MMJ limit in Texas increased from .5% to 5%. The Zartler’s are deeply invested in Klick’s efforts. It sadly resulted in only an increase to 1%.

There are other stories featured in “Weed 6.” Some have results that are more noticeable than Kara Zartler’s, simply because the children aren’t as debilitated as Kara in the first place. Gupta may have sacrificed showcasing more such results by putting the Zartler’s extreme case front and center. One mother, whose son’s life was drastically improved by cannabis, says she was accused of “drugging her kid,” to which her response was that the pharmaceutical drugs normally prescribed for autism are essentially tranquilizers that give children a chemical lobotomy. Her son can have a life through cannabis that no other drug affords him.

Additionally, Gupta speaks with doctors on the forefront of these issues in both Israel and the United States. One doctor, chemist Raphael Mechoulam, flatly states “Cannabis works on autism,” as though there is no room for argument. And after watching “Weed 6,” it would indeed be difficult to argue the issue. If you have or know a child on the autism spectrum, or perhaps even an autistic adult who would benefit from this medicine, and you live in a state where MMJ is legal, now is unquestionably a good time to reach out to a doctor involved in this movement. It may be a call that changes your life, or the life of someone you love.

“Weed 6” can currently be viewed here on Vimeo.

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