[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap”]M[/dropcap]ark and Christy Zartler had once assumed that nothing would stop their daughter Kara from injuring herself. Kara, 18, weighs only 98 pounds, and due to living with severe autism and cerebral palsy, hits herself in the head during uncontrollable fits. Fortunately, this family from Richardson, Texas discovered that medical cannabis miraculously has the ability to calm Kara down, causing her self-inflicted injuries to stop.
Before turning to cannabis, the medications that Kara was taking forced her into a catatonic state, however even then she still continued to hit herself. Christy, Kara’s mom, is a pediatric nurse practitioner and knows about the limitations of autism treatment better than anyone else. “I have watched my daughter’s condition stump many physicians, therapists and teachers, and nobody has been able to come up with an idea to help stop my daughter’s self-injurious behavior,” Christy told CULTURE. “My daughter spent 10 years on heavy pharmaceutical drugs that caused horrific side effects, including brain damage. The first cannabis she got was a brownie our neighbor gave us when she was 11 years old.”
That single brownie would change the course of the family’s mission—a calling to be medical cannabis warriors.
Kara’s fits caused her to break her nose, breaking the fine bones of her eye sockets and cheek bones and leaving her with severe brain damage. Videos that prove medical cannabis works on Kara went viral on YouTube last year. Kara is unable to speak because of the level of her autism, but her twin sister Keeley has not been diagnosed with autism.
“It’s a moral obligation. We can’t just let her hit herself when we have a medicine that will stop it. I’d rather not be breaking the law, but I really don’t see this as a choice to make or not make.”
While Texas law forbids most forms of medical cannabis, Kara’s health took priority. “I myself started advocating for medical cannabis at the state Capitol during the 2015 session,” Christy said. “Now that we shared our story on Facebook last year when she was 17 years old, my husband and I both went to the Capitol this past 2017 session. Mark spoke at four hearings regarding the legalization of cannabis. It is disheartening that Texas lawmakers do not ‘hear’ our needs.” Even though medical cannabis is not legal in Texas, the laws have not stopped Kara’s parents from providing their daughter wit
h the medicine she needs to keep her safe from severe physical self-injury.
While cannabis that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) has been gaining popularity for treatment of many individuals, including children, the family discovered that high-THC cannabis is what Kara needs. “It stops self abuse episodes and stabilizes her mood,” Mark Zartler told CULTURE. “Knowing this, it’s more than a personal priority. It’s a moral obligation. We can’t just let her hit herself when we have a medicine that will stop it. I’d rather not be breaking the law, but I really don’t see this as a choice to make or not make.”
Parents of children on the autism spectrum deal with varying levels of disability. Although some parents of children with autism have found success with oils or edibles, they’re not the most effective methods to stabilize Kara’s mood.
The Zartlers follow a strict regimen, depending on the severity of Kara’s episodes. “Vaporized marijuana stops self-injury and stabilizes Kara’s mood,” Mark said. “It is very fast. It stops self-injury and stabilizes Kara’s mood in three to five minutes. At that point, she is no longer punching herself or trying. It’s fast and 100 percent effective. If she is having a really bad fit, we will also give her oils at the same time. This way, once the vapor wears off, the oils will be on-board. This is our recipe for turning a really terrible day into a good one.”
“Low THC is not very effective for Kara. We know this because we’ve tried. I wish CBD strains were effective, but they aren’t. I’d choose ditch weed over the best CBD strain on the planet.”
Meanwhile, research is being done on strains high in CBD for people with autism, notably in Israel, where there are few barriers blocking research. “While we are very happy that research is finally happening, we are disappointed that it’s only testing CBD strains,” Mark said. “Low THC is not very effective for Kara. We know this because we’ve tried. I wish CBD strains were effective, but they aren’t. I’d choose ditch weed over the best CBD strain on the planet. One will work and one won’t. Hopefully research will eventually catch up to what parents already know.”
Astonishingly, Mark and Christy recently had to fight for guardianship of their own daughter over her treatment regimen. Child Protective Services (CPS) became aware of the Zartler’s viral video, and they were reported. On March 1, Judge Brenda Hull Thompson ruled the Zartlers were qualified to be guardians and awarded them guardianship over Kara. “The guardianship hearing was very important,” explained Mark. “Any other outcome would have forced us to move, to become medical refugees. When a person turns 18, they are in charge of themselves and can make their own medical decisions. This is a fundamental right and automatic at 18. But what if a person is unable to make these decisions? Parents apply to the courts for guardianship and a judge decides it. It’s normally quite routine, but with my CPS history related to Kara and ‘illegal drugs’, it was far from automatic. It is a relief. Dallas County has been very good to us. We owe them.”
The legal battles that the Zartler family had to endure are truly humbling. “Our family has survived child services and civil courts, if not completely unscathed. My CPS record means that I cannot ever work or volunteer around kids,” Mark lamented. “It could be worse.”
One thing is certain, and that is that Mark and Christy Zartler aren’t backing down. “Maybe [an arrest] has to happen,” Mark concluded. “Maybe we have to get through criminal courts to complete the thing. I am ready and have complete trust in a jury of my peers. We are doing the right thing, and I can prove it.”