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Erica Daniels=ED: I am an activist, entrepreneur, author, healthy cook, loud music lover, community educator and mother. After my son was diagnosed in 2007, my life changed and gained new purpose. Since, I have focused on research, education and advocacy of natural health treatments for autism.
Four years ago, my son, Leo, was struggling so with anxiety, OCD and epic meltdowns as a result of his symptoms associated with autism. He was suffering and unhappy almost every day and there was nothing I could do to help him. I considered residential treatment facilities because I could not help him or handle him. It was a very low time as a mother. Instead, I decided to try medical cannabis as a last resort. Within 30 days he went from having debilitating and self-injuring meltdowns 4-6 times a week to only one in 30 days and he was happy. Medical cannabis works for him.
WB: Tell me about what you’re working on right now? What are your six and twelve month goals? Do you have a mentor? Who is it?
ED: I founded Hope Grows for Autism in 2016, a nonprofit aimed at improving the lives of families affected by autism. We work to create and facilitate global research, education and advocacy surrounding cannabis and autism. I quickly learned that education and research without access to appropriate cannabis medicines did not solve the problem. Families could learn about using cannabis for autism but did not have access to any appropriate formulations. In some cases, children were being given RSOs and vape products because that nothing else was available.
In a launch, learn and develop strategy taking in real time feedback and data from the autism community itself, HOPE™ was formulated and launched with autism in mind. The HOPE™ range of products was born out of a partnership I forged to Ilera Healthcare in Pennsylvania to better serve patients with. In a merger, HOPE™ became the flagship product for Zelira Therapeutics opening access to clinical trials and global reach. Although autism was the inspiration for HOPE™ it quickly proved to be beneficial to other chronic conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, neuropathy and others. HOPE™ has since become its manufacturer’s best-selling tincture.
My ultimate goal is for medical cannabis to be considered a frontline treatment for autism. Families having to wait until last resort or put themselves in danger to try medical cannabis is unjust and unfair.
In the next six months we hope we have legislation in place for autism included as a qualifying condition in all current legal medical cannabis states and in a year to access to appropriate medical cannabis for all autism patients. I will be happy when HOPE™ truly sees no boundaries… no state boundaries, no educational boundaries, no stigma boundaries, no access boundaries.
I have many mentors. I am constantly watching and learning from my team members, business partners, autism families, friends, medical professionals and so on. I will seek out experts in specific areas to guide me and I have been fortunate enough to get a lot of support along the way from some very incredible and intelligent people.
WB: How does cannabis help those afflicted with Autism? What are your hopes for the plant and the alleviation of your son’s ills?
ED: Cannabis, in many cases, eases the outward symptoms of autism immediately while working long-term to repair chronic underlying medical issues associated with autism. My son has been using medical cannabis for 4 years. The initial positive effects such as alleviation of anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity and chronic meltdowns have continued as also I see longer term effects such as improvement in his speech and overall health and quality of life. Considerable research has been done revealing endocannabinoid system deficiencies in individuals with autism. Safety and efficacy research also exists and continues to be done. But these parents don’t can’t for research to be published, they need help and support now.
WB: Do you have a favorite food memory you’d like to share? Do you cook? What is your favorite meal look like? Organic? Biodynamic?
ED: I love to cook, and I love to cook even more with my children. I authored a cookbook in 2017, Cooking with Leo: An Allergen-Free Autism Family Cookbook.
Food allergies are very common in autism, my son has many. I took our family recipes and converted them to be organic, whole food and allergen-free dishes. This way we could still enjoy the traditions that we loved so much surrounding food. Cooking is a great way for us to spend time together as a family and bond over something we enjoy. My favorite part about cooking is sharing the history and stories behind our family recipes and just having some good family fun! Sharing a meal at the table is something we can always continue to enjoy even through uncertain times.
WB: What is your passion?
ED: My passion is learning as much as I can about how to improve the quality of life for families affected by autism and sharing that knowledge to help other families. I love educating and sharing my experiences then converting them into helpful tools for others.
Receiving feedback and messages from families from all over the world nourishes that passion and gives me continuous strength and inspiration. I have been contacted by families who are so desperate they are about to institutionalize their loved one or child with autism. It’s a terrible shame that families have to get to that point to even consider a plant that has almost no side effects, but they have been given drugs with backbox warnings and toxic side effects. Many cannot access cannabis because of some state and federal laws.
Now, during Covid19, we have come to see medical cannabis be considered an essential business. A federally illegal essential business is a different concept to say the least. Further, we have seen a lot of the red tape surrounding many important medical access issues be loosened, including cannabis. I am hoping this will be a lesson to government in how we should be accessing medical care in the future. Less regulations, more health access and choice is what we ALL need. Accessing necessary and appropriate medical and educational services is a great challenge to autism families every day. The National Survey of Childhood Health (NSCH) reports 1 in 36 American children have autism, while the CDC reported 1 in 54 just last month. An autism epidemic either way.
There is no cure for autism. For years I traveled the country seeing specialists and trying countless treatments to try help improve the quality of my son’s life. All with, little or no progress. I found that natural treatments such as diet and medical cannabis have worked best for us and many others. I saw my son come back to life, be happy again and truly enjoy his life through the use of medical cannabis. I have to share that experience with others and offer other families that same hope/ Hope Grows for Autism/ HOPE™. That is what keeps me going motivated every single day.
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