Parents: Medical marijuana helps boy, 11, with severe autism

EUGENE, Ore. - Tissue growths in his brain cause Alex Echols to lose control and lapse into uncontrollable rages.

His severe autism makes it impossible for him to explain why he is mad - and the 11-year-old takes the anger out on himself.

"He just will start hitting his head into things, hitting himself with his hands, slapping himself with his hands," said Jeremy Echols, Alex's father.

Alex's behavior often becomes so violent, he bloodies himself.

Jeremy and Karen Echols say Alex wasn't always this way.

"He was happy for most of his childhood," Jeremy said, "until his behaviors popped in."

Alex suffers from tuberous sclerosis, a condition that causes growths to form all around his body including his organs and brain. Dr. Colin Roberts at Doernbecher Children's Hospital said the growths in Alex's brain have caused seizures, severe autism and rage.

"It's difficult because when Alex has a behavior like biting himself or hitting himself, or lashing out at others, he can't communicate and tell us why," Roberts said. "In the middle of Alex's brain is this growth which is actually blocking the flow of fluid around his brain."

The growths are a result of his tuberous sclerosis.

For years, the Echols tried almost every behavioral medicine out there to help Alex: Zoloft, Valium, Trazodone - the list goes on.

Nothing helped.

"I was searching the Internet," Karen said, "and found a medical marijuana piece from a couple different people down in California and went huh!"

The Echols found a grower who gave them keef, a powdery residue from cannabis.

"We mix that with food grade glycerin, put it on a really low temperature for a while and eventually we strain it out and have this tincture," Jeremy said.

The Echols said they saw a dramatic improvement in Alex's behavior. For the first time, he was able to play with toys rather than hitting himself. They've been giving him the marijuana consistently for the past three months.

"When you look at the drugs that are fully legal that people have no problem throwing at kids, they have a lot more concerning side effects," Jeremy said.

The Echols want to dose Alex daily, but he lives in a group home that doesn't allow canabis.

His parents visit Alex two or three times a week and give him the tincture away from the group home.

Dr. Roberts doesn't encourage the use of medical marijuana, but said he understands where the Echols are coming from.

"I certainly support Alex's family in their desire to help him," he said, "and I work with them from a medical side to do that."

The Echols said that because they can't administer the medical marijuana tincture to Alex as much as they'd like, they don't know the right dosage or best strain of marijuana to help Alex even more.

The hope more research is done on medical marijuana so their son can reap the benefits - or even one day return to normal.

"Knowing that (Alex) is in there somewhere, and not knowing how to bring it back - it's just really, frustrating isn't even the right word," Jeremy said. "It's awful."

The Echols have created a blog and website with Alex's story and updates on his condition: