'Sam' is a 10 year-old California boy who lives with his Dad, Mom, and sister Lucy. Sam has autism. From age two until eight, Sam's disorder made him violent and aggressive. His parents Steve and Angela were truly living a nightmare, every day.
"He got to the point where he was hurting other children, when he was in school, or in public places," Angela explains to KTLA News. "We'd be in line at the store, and he'd just bolt and hit another child in the face without any warning at all."
Sam's Dad remembers all the tough days. "One time he pulled down a TV, he knocked over furniture. I had to put him in a hold for a whole hour. His body was just spasming, so I lay there just crying, and holding him."
Sam's parents worked with expert doctors, who recommended a succession of conventional prescription medications -- like Risperdal and a host of others. But Sam just gained 20 pounds, and he became even more dangerous.
"His behavior was getting worse," Angela recalls. "And we were scared. He was getting bigger, stronger, now that he was 20 pounds heavier from the Risperdal."
"It was the saddest thing," Steve says. "The child we'd grown to love was gone. When you talked to him, looked at him, he'd just disappeared."
Finally, at their wit's end, and faced with the very real prospect of needing to institutionalize their son, Sam's parents decided to try something unconventional...and controversial. Last year they began treating Sam with medical marijuana.
"If you think about it, it's the perfect drug for that kind of behavior, very calming," Angela says.
Steve and Angela got a recommendation from a medical cannabis doctor. They told Sam's pediatrician about their plan. And Steve grew Sam's new medicine in their back yard. From the marijuana flowers Steve grew, he could make a concentrated form, what people refer to as 'hash.'
Steve showed us a ball of hash, roughly ¾ inch in diameter, representing roughly four months of doses for Sam. Steve softens the cannabis with heat, then takes what appears to be just a speck of pot -- Sam's 'dose' for the day.
And from the very start, the cannabis was a godsend for Sam's family. "The first time we did it, we wanted to see if it would work at all," Steve recalls. "It was an amazing experience, I'll never forget it, as we watched what happened, it was like 'He's back!' It was like all this anguish, pent-up rage and aggressiveness went away -- it just calmed him down."
While KTLA visited the family, we watched Steve put Sam's daily dose in a piece of melon and take it to him. Within roughly 20 minutes, the effects were clear. Where earlier Sam had been animated and antsy, after eating his speck of hash Sam became calm, relaxed, and social.
Could Sam's story help others? Respected Los Angeles-area pediatrician Chris Tolcher says we don't know enough about cannabis for kids.
"I think for all the parents out there whose children may have autism," Tolcher says, "I think the message here is that this is intriguing information that needs more research before we can confidently say that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for autism complications."
But for one California family, medical marijuana has literally been an answer to their prayers and a homecoming for their son. "It was a medication with the result we'd been hoping for, for so long," Steve says.
Angela agrees. "He was happy again, smiling, laughing. There was the boy we'd lost for so long, who we wondered if we'd ever see again.
"It just feels like I have more control to help my son," Steve says. "We don't depend on doctors, who may have the best intentions, but they don't know what Sam needs.. I want do what's best for my son. And I'll do whatever I can for him."
Sam's Story: Medical Marijuana and Autism