Medical Cannabis & Autism: Kali's Story

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Kali of St. Cloud, Minnesota is a junior at Apollo High School. She loves camping, swimming, traveling (Duluth is one of her favorite destinations), art and pursuing her new-found passion for photography. Kali has an older brother, loves to visit her grandpa Marvin in Sleepy Eye, and enjoys spending quality time with her family; their go-to activities include camping trips, bowling and trips to Denny’s.

When Kali was a baby, she didn’t start crawling until she was nearly eight months old; she didn’t start walking until she was two. She would never look at people--even at daycare. She didn’t interact with her peers and would sit by the corner of the fence and watch. As she grew up certain things improved but there were always new issues popping up.

In 2007, Kali was diagnosed with autism and severe anxiety; in 2019, she was officially diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.

The day-to-day for Kali and her family was difficult at best. She would have meltdowns that lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, and typically had several per day. At a certain point in time, they could not go anywhere or do anything with Kali--the simplest things would set her off, from the weather to attending school.

Kali was aggressive toward herself and others; she would often pull her own hair and hit herself. Once on a trip to Target on a busy afternoon, Kali had a meltdown and was kicking and screaming--she bit through her dad’s winter coat and drew blood. The anxiety and aggression sparked a lot of difficulties at school for Kali with peers and teachers.

In order to help her deal with symptoms of her diagnoses, they tried everything. Occupational therapy, speech therapy and in-home therapy. Over the years she took 23 different medications; Kali hated taking them, she didn’t like the way they made her feel. Every option they pursued, including her prescriptions, provided less-than-ideal results. Eventually, they discovered through testing that all of the medications were not absorbing correctly through the main pathway in her liver.

Exhausted and wanting to find relief for their daughter, Susann and Adam began to research alternative forms of treatment. A friend of Adam’s recommended a physician who certifies patients for the medical cannabis program in Minnesota. They were hesitant at first and took their time weighing the benefits before they made a decision, but Kali was still having trouble getting restful sleep at night, even with Trazadone and six other medications, and her aggression and anxiety still persisted. Something needed to change.

On a Thursday in October 2018, Kali’s condition was certified by her new doctor. Prior to their initial consultation, her parents stopped by the LeafLine Labs patient care center in St. Cloud for a run down of the process; they were pleased with how welcoming, friendly and informative the staff and overall visit went. “It was professional, like a doctor’s visit,” Adam and Susann shared. The next week, Kali and her parents met with a pharmacist and purchased medication for the first time.

Since beginning medical cannabis, Kali’s issues with aggression and harm toward herself and others has become non-existent; the family had an outing in Bentleyville not long after on a busy, crowded Saturday night and Kali did great--she had a blast and was in a fantastic mood throughout. Over the Holidays, Kali and her family were able to take shopping trips to the Mall of America, something they never were able to do before. There were many instances in the past where she would constantly cry about everything--there haven’t been any instances like that since October.

“I wish we could have done this a long time ago,” Susann said, “It would have made her life and ours a lot easier...It’s nice to to do simple things like go out to dinner and not have to worry.”

Now, Kali has a part-time job. She can tolerate being around people. She goes to, and stays, asleep without the help of Trazadone or other sleep aids. Most incredibly, she has been able to wean off of every single medication from before medical cannabis, including her Xanax extended release and Gabapentin. Kali feels like herself again, more so than ever.

Adam and Susann used to regularly receive emails and calls from school with concerns about relations with other students and poor performance in classes. Now, Kali is earning all As and Bs and she enjoys going to school. She is able to refrain from getting involved in the typical high school drama she used to not be able to stay away from.

She enjoys seeing her case manager who is helping to teach her new life skills; teachers at school have remarked about how focused she is and how they can tell she is able to think before she acts. A few months back, the principal pulled her aside and told Kali how proud she was of her.

Kali’s parents describe her as happy, loving and giddy these days. They are elated to see their daughter thriving and truly coming into her own. Before medical cannabis, Kali and her family’s quality of life was anywhere from a 1 to 3. Now, they say most days are an 8 or 9.

Adam and Susann are grateful for the profound impact medical cannabis has made on Kali and their family’s lives; they are more aware of, and are able to enjoy and appreciate the seemingly simple things in life yet again. They are hopeful and excited for Kali as she finishes high school and continues to reach important milestones in her life. They couldn’t be more proud of how far Kali has come.

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