We recently sat down with the founder of Cannafora, Abigail Dar to discuss autism, cannabis and the amazing services her center is providing for families in Israel.
Cannafora is a medical cannabis treatment center for people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. The center offers a complete solution holistic approach (biological, emotional, environmental) that addresses all aspects of the patient's life.
What is your personal story with choosing cannabis for your child on the spectrum?
Yuval, my severely autistic son is 27 now. Yuval is very restless and has a lot of anxiety, so when he was 12 years old, we started giving him antipsychotic medication on the recommendation of his doctors. But he just became worse and worse.
By the age of 17 he got epileptic seizures so we had to add anti-epileptic drugs. When he was around 17, he became very self-injurious, biting himself until bleeding. And sometimes very aggressive towards his cares or towards me.
There were years I refer to as "living in the shadow of hell". Loving and caring for your child but frightened he will attack you...can't be alone with him and can't drive and take him to places.
So, even before cannabis, we weaned him off all those medications and found him to do better without them than with. But still, he had his outbursts, his restlessness and self-injurious behaviors.
Then, in 2014, I read that Israeli neurologists started prescribing high CBD whole plant oil for kids with intractable epilepsy. I reached out to them, but they said they couldn't prescribe it to Yuval since his epilepsy is intractable and because autism was not a qualifying condition in Israel.
I decided we had nothing to lose and would find a way to give it a try. I read as much as I could on the internet about the cannabis plant, turned to an Israeli psychiatrist who treated hundreds of Israeli veterans with PTSD and finally, got access to medical marijuana for Yuval.
It was on October 2015. I remember thinking if Yuval responded amazingly to the treatment his mother would become the Israeli advocate for so many families choosing to treat their children with medical marijuana instead of pharmaceutical drugs.
In Yuval’s case, he responded best to a CBD-rich whole plant cannabis oil and vaporizing high-THC cannabis flower when he is agitated. CBD-dominant cannabis products without THC tended to increase his hyperactivity and anxiety. However, some children can experience significant improvements with CBD oil alone.
Do you think cannabis education for medical professionals and healthcare providers is lacking?
Definitely. Since cannabis is a very complicated plant, much more scientific research is needed to better understand: the different strains, cannabinoids and terpenes effects, different delivery methods, extraction methods, and vaporizing options.
Even today here in Israel, where autism is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana we have more and more doctors supporting this treatment option and willing to prescribe it. And since autism is so complex by itself most of the knowledge today comes from the patients themselves, and just small part of it from science.
And this is what I do here in Israel at Cannafora (Cannabis for Autism treatment center I’ve founded) - the "hands on" part with the families to get the right cannabis product and the right dosing and balance for their autistic child.
What kind of research (cannabis related) is needed that hasn't been covered yet for persons on the autism spectrum?
I've been involved at the pre-clinical trial at Shaarei Zedek that recently published the first clinical trial in the world focusing medical cannabis as a treatment for autism.
I'm up to date with the clinical research being done here these at Asaf Harofe medical center and led by Dr. Orit Stollar and Prof. Mati Berkowitch. I'm really happy the research is being done since it reflects what I see here on a daily basis – how much cannabis can ease and relive the struggles and challenges that comes with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).
The research is focusing on whole plant high CBD strains (20:1). I see some of the kids needs more THC, or more "balanced" strains/products. Or we hear and read about the effect of other cannabinoids with regards to ASD. All these should be researched.
At Cannafora we just started a research regarding the effects of cannabis on cognition and communication. Something that other researchers focused on since they mainly focused on behavioral aspects. We will also examine, in certain cases, higher dosing of THC (carefully and under medical supervision).
Where do you see Israel making an impact for families in the next 5 years?
Israel's advantage in cannabis is the scientific research regulations which allow us to research the effects of different cannabinoids, strains, and delivery methods for our kids. I believe is a step-by-step… and scientific knowledge is built slower than we need/want. But this is where I'm aiming here.
What is the best advice you can give a parent looking for guidance online?
Research, research and again research. Also – don't assume it's a "miracle", it's a voyage, a trial and error voyage. Far better than the pharmaceuticals, but no different in the trial and error process.
If you have some professional in your state/area – approach him for assistance (every state regulations and cannabis products are different). Don't assume doctors know what's best in this matter. Most likely it'll be a nurse or someone who has educated themselves on both cannabis and ASDs.