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Imagine waiting more than nine years to hear the sound of your child’s voice. That is a narrative all too familiar to Abiel and Gladys Santiago, parents of 9-year-old Kalel.

Kalel was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer as a baby and then severe, nonverbal autism just three years later.

Abiel, Kalel, and Gladys Santiago

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.”

Explained Abiel Santiago.

“But we waited until he was three and cancer-free to look at his behavior.”

After undergoing an exhaustive list of therapies, the family found hope after signing Kalel up for a rare surf-therapy program and attending a fundraiser for the organization. There, they were introduced to a single cannabinoid therapy known as cannabidiol oil, or CBD, which has proven to reduce symptoms associated with autism and epilepsy.

Kalel Santiago surf therapy

Kalel’s parents brought the oil home in spray form and began giving it to him twice daily. In only two days, the previously nonverbal boy uttered his first words, delighting his parents, his surf instructor and even Hemp Health, the company behind the product. He started by making vowel sounds and then progressed to the point where he was able to tell his mother he loved her – something she had longed to hear since the day of his birth.

While the product sparked notable progress in Kalel, its use, particularly among minors, remains controversial. Created from cannabis flowers, CBD oil is not available in states that have yet to legalize medical marijuana. Because of this, Hemp Health and the makers of some similar products have begun producing and marketing THC-free alternatives, which is concerning to the Food and Drug Administration.

According to the FDA, these products are not regulated and therefore cannot be deemed safe for use. Martin Lee, the director of Project CBD, a nonprofit organization that educates the public on using CBD for medicinal purposes, confirmed that CBD oils are more effective when created from cannabis rather than alternative sources.

“[CBD] oils can be effective,” Lee said. “We would suggest, however, that anyone who is seeking such products should try to access CBD oil derived from cannabis rather than industrial hemp, which is not an optimal source for CBD.”

While the use of cannabis treatments remains controversial, especially among children, the Santiago family firmly believes in the benefits. Although this is another example of successful cannabidiol therapy, but not all patients respond to just one isolated cannabinoid. Many argue that multiple cannabinoids working together for the entourage effect are needed to successfully treat most patients.

Kalel Santiago

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