SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Over the years, marijuana has been gaining credibility for medicinal purposes. Although the drug is not available in most states, there are some legal, hemp-based alternatives sold as nutritional supplements that are available in all 50 states.
Thalia Michelle found out about hemp-based supplements while scouring the internet for therapies that could help her 10-year-old son Lance, who was diagnosed as autistic.
"The anecdotal stories were just undeniable," said Michelle. "We found a legal hemp product, which we're using with him, called Real Scientific Hemp Oil."
Michelle buys her hemp oil online but some options are available at vitamin stores. The product she uses is a thick, tar-like substance that comes in a syringe and is given orally. It initially doesn't taste like much but has a strong, bitter aftertaste.
Michelle puts a rice-sized amount of the product in a capsule, so her son doesn't have to taste it. She gives it to him daily, along with his vitamins.
The active ingredient is cannabidiol, or CBD, which is found in both hemp and marijuana. However, the hemp version has very little of the psychoactive ingredient THC -- less than .03 perent -- so it's legal in all 50 states.
"It can give you access to very high concentrated CBD but it can't get you high and the amount of THC is just a trace amount, so you can't get stoned," said Andrew Hard, spokesperson for HempMeds.
According to CBD's advocates, it can be used for dozens of conditions from autism to epilepsy to cancer. However, it lacks FDA approval, so companies that sell it can't claim it treats anything.
Dr. Brett Ginsburg at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio studies CBD for psychiatric use and said he's seen some positive results.
"(With) cannabidiols, there's some preliminary evidence that seems to show it can be effective, but large-scale studies have not been done yet, so before we say yes, definitely, we'd like to see the results of those studies," said Ginsburg.
Michelle said in her son's case, the results are all the proof she needs.
"He's just a different kid. He's so much more focused. He's not hurting anyone, he's not hurting himself, he's responding to commands. I mean, it's huge for him," she said.
The only drawback, Michelle said, is that she's noticed occasional bouts of hyperactivity. However, she believes it's worth the gains. She said she hopes to one day try more potent strains of marijuana-based CBD for Lance. For now, she's happy to have a legal alternative.
"I think anyone that wants to try it should do their research and I think that hemp is a viable option," she said. "It's definitely worth a shot and worth a try."
Ginsburg said buyers need to beware when purchasing supplements that contain CBD. He recommends doing plenty of research and to be sure the product comes from a reliable source that uses third-party testing to prove authenticity.