Parents say medical marijuana for children has been ‘life-changing’

Published 8:23 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2019

ST. PAUL — Andrea Devora can still hear the loud thud on her front door.

A Minneapolis police officer and workers from Child Protective Services stood outside. They heard that Devora had given marijuana to her 10-year-old son, who has autism. She had shared the success of her son’s legal medical cannabis treatment on Facebook the night before and a woman had reported her.

“I was legitimately searching for the best options for my child,” Devora, who feared she would lose her son because of it, said to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It would take her several meetings with a child-protection case manager over the course of a year to get the case dismissed.

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From stigma and steep costs to limits on where they can administer the drug, parents who give their children medical cannabis in Minnesota face challenges. Parents who spoke to the Pioneer Press said it is worth the trouble; their kids live a better life with the drug.

About 500 children younger than 18 are enrolled in Minnesota’s medical marijuana program. The drug — which comes in the form of pills and oils — can treat kids who have autism, Tourette syndrome, seizures or other conditions.

Many parents spend hundreds of dollars per month on their children’s medical marijuana because insurance companies will not cover it.

But the benefits, they say, are priceless.

Katie Kennedy uses it to treat her 12-year-old son, who has severe autism. Tyler is nonverbal and panics when overwhelmed. Any disruption in his daily routine, even a simple milk spill, can cause a meltdown.

“You will have a lot of screaming. There will be tables flipped over. I might get bit,” Kennedy said.

When Tyler is on medical marijuana, she said, all of his symptoms improve. He is less fidgety and more giggly.

“I love my child and I want the best for him, and I believe this is the best medication for him,” Kennedy said.

Before medical marijuana, 15-year-old TJ Tidd could fly into a rage that would leave his parents bruised and bloody.

The combination of his Tourette syndrome and the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed from years in foster care was volatile. He would scream threats and punch through walls in his family’s Lakeville home. The only thing that put a stop to the breakdowns was a 911 call.

Now there are no more rages. No more police calls. TJ has traded a handful of pills each day for a few drops of liquid cannabis.

“It was life-changing for us,” said his mother, Heather Tidd.

Tidd kept TJ’s treatment a secret at first because she worried what others would think.

But after his reading went up two grade levels, she let family, friends and even his teachers in on the secret to his success.

“People noticed how well he was doing and kept asking us what had changed,” Tidd said.

Shannon Johnson of Chaska heard pushback from some family members when they learned she was giving medical cannabis to her son Johnny, who has autism.

“Oh, you’re getting him high?” they asked. That was exactly what she did not want.

Johnson refuses to give her 14-year-old son products that are high in THC, the ingredient in marijuana that can get a person high. She buys blends that are higher in CBD.

Both at home and at school, she says, Johnny’s life has improved.

He now tells his mom everything about his day, details she used to have to probe him for.

At school, Johnny would put on earmuffs and lay his head down during class. Now, he is more engaged and scores higher on assignments.

“It’s like he’s just a different kid,” Johnson said.

Children are not allowed to take their medical marijuana at school, however. Current law prohibits it.

That means parents must schedule doses before and after school, or take their kids out and administer the pills or oils off premises.

This is an inconvenience for Jessica Hauser, who gives medical marijuana to her son Wyatt. The 6-year-old has a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. He takes several drugs each day to reduce the frequency and intensity of his seizures.

“We’ve had to adjust his medication schedule so that he is administered his pharmaceuticals at school,” said Hauser, who lives in Woodbury.

State Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, had proposed to alter this in a bill that would make broad changes to Minnesota’s medical marijuana law.

The Democrat from Edina included a provision that would have let kids take their medical cannabis at school, but later removed it from the bill because of objections from local school boards.

Grace Keliher, government relations director for the Minnesota School Boards Association, declined to share the group’s position on the issue.

Edelson said she will continue discussions with schools over the summer in hopes of bringing it back next year.