By Beth Greenfield – Senior Writer – Yahoo Parenting, June 3, 2015
Though Kalel Santiago of Puerto Rico is only 9 years old, he’s already endured some adult-level struggles. At just 10 months, he was diagnosed with the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma, and spent more than two years undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. Then came the next diagnosis: severe, non-verbal autism.
“While he was in the hospital, we noticed he didn’t speak at all and had some behavior that wasn’t right, like hand flapping, and walking on his toes,” his father, Abiel Gomez Santiago, tells Yahoo Parenting from the family’s home in Aguada. “But we waited until he was 3 and cancer-free to look at his behavior.”
He and his wife Gladys – also parents to two older boys, now 18 and 20 – did a cram course in educating themselves on autism. They tried various schools and therapies, and eventually found impressive success with a unique surf-therapy school near their home. Then, through an April fundraising event for that program, the Santiagos happened upon a treatment that would quickly change their lives: hemp oil, rich in the compound cannabidiol (CBD), which has been shown, at least anecdotally, to dramatically ease symptoms of both epilepsy and autism.
They took home the tiny sample bottle of spray and began giving their son twice daily doses, as directed on the label, right into his mouth. And the results, they say, were startling: Kalel started talking – in just two days.
“He surprised us in school by saying the vowels, A-E-I-O-U. It was the first time ever,” Abiel says. “You can’t imagine the emotion we had, hearing Kalel’s voice for the first time. It was amazing. The teacher recorded him and sent it to my wife and me and we said well, the only different thing we have been doing is using the CBD.” Soon thereafter, he adds, Kalel started using consonants to connect his sounds. “He said, ‘amo mi mama,’ ‘I love my mom,'” Abiel says. “I don’t know how to thank [the CBD oil makers].”
But the product they are grateful for – Hemp Health, from California, which sells for $40 per ounce (almost a three-month supply) – is not without controversy. It’s just one of many CBD oils now marketed as legally attainable alternatives to the much sought-after Charlotte’s Web – the most popularized version of the oil, which is low in THC and and rich in CBD. But it’s made from specially cultivated marijuana (the cannabis flowers). And since medical marijuana is not legal in all states, especially for minors, scores of desperate families from all over the country have moved to Charlotte’s Web’s source, Colorado. In response, Hemp Health and other versions derived from industrial hemp – THC-free cannabis stalks and seeds – have popped up on the web, claiming to be cheap and legal alternatives.
But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would disagree. The agency maintains that such products are unregulated and therefore not proven safe, and that their sale as dietary supplements is in fact illegal. (Though enforcement of such sales, spokesperson Jeff Ventura tells Yahoo Parenting, would depend on factors including “agency resources and the threat to the public health.”) In February, the FDA sent warning letters to many CBD oil manufacturers, telling them to stop making medical claims – like being cure-alls for everything from glaucoma to Ebola – about their products.