RICHARDSON, Texas - Next month, there could be hearings to consider two bills in the Texas legislature that would allow everyone from people with chronic pain to autism access to medical marijuana.
But two Richardson parents are not waiting and have released a video showing how the treatment affects their daughter.
More than a million people have watched the video that shows a severely autistic girl hitting herself. Her parents then illegally give her vaporized marijuana and the hitting stopped in minutes.
But one of the nation's most prominent addiction experts says using marijuana as a treatment could actually do more harm than good.
It is a difficult video to watch. 17-year-old Kara Zartler's family says she punches herself repeatedly as a result of severe autism. After years of giving her marijuana treatments secretly, Kara's parents recorded a video to show why they believe it should be legalized.
After posting the video earlier this month, the Richardson family discovered they are far from alone in their struggle.
Kara is non-verbal and has the mental capacity of a two-year-old. The Zartlers first gave her marijuana about five years ago at the suggestion of a neighbor. It was before a trip to the beach the Zartlers knew the drive there would be a challenge.
“You can't restrain her in the car. I'm not strong enough to win a grappling battle because she bites,” said her father, Mark. “So we were like, let's feed her a brownie. It worked. She was cool, made it five hours."
“As soon as we first gave it to her and saw the change and saw her mood, we told her physicians and they were all aware,” said her mother, Christy.
Over the past year, the Zartlers began reducing Kara's prescribed medication for autism.
“As we moved her medicine down, she got smarter,” Mark said.
“Now, she's with us,” Christy said. “She's come into her personality."
But Dr. Harold Urschel, an addiction specialist and chief medical strategist for Enterhealth, says people using marijuana to treat medical ailments are taking a dangerous gamble. Dr. Urschel has never treated Kara but watched the video.
“My worry for that particular person is marijuana is extremely toxic to their brain,” he said. “It's being put into a brain that already has major issues. I think that marijuana is the worst possible thing you could use."
Urschel says regular use of marijuana injures the brain. And even though it relaxes people, he says it doubles a person's heart rate, contributing to heart attacks. He says it is especially dangerous for young people whose brains are still developing.
“I don't think it can make her condition worse,” Christy said. “But I wouldn't recommend it for a normal person because our brains are growing and evolving until age 25."
While there is limited research on the effects of marijuana, especially as its potency has increased in recent years, the Zartlers say they can only vouch for their own experience.
“We know it works for us,” Marks said. “My doubts have been watched away."
There are both house and senate bills in the Texas legislature that would allow for widespread medical marijuana use in Texas. One of the bills was just joint authored by a Republican, which could give it a significant leg up. Proponents are hoping the bill will receive a hearing next month.