A Carlow mum of three has opened up about she “got her little boy back” after CBD oil helped to ease the symptoms of his autism.
Rhona Cullinan said her son Joshua was a “happy, giggly, chatty and fun” little boy until he got to about 18 months old.
By that point, the make-up artist had welcomed her third child, Molly – and she put the changes down to him feeling left out because of the new baby.
She explained: “His words were less, his eye contact slowly crept away and he wanted absolutely nothing to do with Molly.
“We put it down to jealousy of a new baby and didnâ€™t over worry.
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“But as time went on and I did more research we realised that he was actually regressingâ€¦quickly he lost all his words, all his babble, all his eye contact, all his play and all his appetite for foodâ€¦we had lost our little boy to autism.”
Joshua then began to develop more traits typical of children with autism.
Rhona went on: “He began to flap his arms and hands and have meltdowns at any new situation. Going through shops was a nightmare â€“ to the extent that we stopped going out.
“He began to eat only yellow food â€“ chips, nuggets, waffles and minimal amounts. No fruit, no vegetables and not even chocolate would entice him â€“ he lost weight rapidly and became pale and sullen.
“He would bounce on his knees for hours on end screeching. He would scream at any time for absolutely no reason â€“ sometimes even looking like he was hearing voices, and he stopped responding when we called his name.
“After ruling out hearing problems we finally got the official diagnosis of non verbal ASD.”
Through the HSE, Joshua began occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy.
“It was a weekly battle at any of these meetings but we persevered,” she said.
“They set out goals and objectives to try to do over the following year. But his progress was slow.
“He had started in a fantastic mainstream creche who were very understanding and flexible as he fairly much did his own thing and didnâ€™t mix with the other children.”
One day while Rhona’s daughter Molly, who has Down’s Syndrome, was getting a check up at home, the nurse overheard Joshua having a meltdown.
“She told me about her nephew who also had autism and asked me had I heard about CBD or Cannabis Oil.
“She told me that her sister had had great success with her son using the oil.”
Rhona had heard of CBD oil but didn’t know much about it, thinking it was a “crazy hallucinogenic drug” that would make Joshua stoned.
But after doing some research online and reading about other parents’ positive experiences, she was convinced that it could help her son.
“I discovered that CBD Oil is a natural, safe, non-hallucinogenic, widely used and above all legal and available to buy in stores or online in Ireland,” she said.
“I also found out that there are hundreds of oils with different strengths and every child being different it was going to take trial and error to get one that worked for his needs.
“It is also different to the THC version of cannabis oil which is the medical cannabis that is hugely successful in treating many conditions but still illegal in a lot of countries including Ireland.”
After getting her partner on board, she decided to try one of the oils she had heard a lot about: Charlotte’s Web Original.
“On day one, we gave him four drops of oil under his tongue. We got mint chocolate flavour but I can tell you here and now it tasted nothing like chocolate â€“ it’s vile!
“Luckily the taste didnâ€™t bother Joshua â€“ he took it in his stride and went off to creche.
“When I nervously went to collect him that evening, I asked how his day was. To my shock, they said it was fantastic and he was in great form.
“‘You’ll never guess what?’ they told me. ‘He ate potatoes and carrots today!'”
Rhona couldn’t believe the news and thought it must have been a fluke, as Joshua had gone over a year without eating any vegetables.
But the next day, he tried Chile Con Carne – and over the following days he ate a variety of different foods he never would have eaten before.
Then by the end of week two, Joshua began to babble again, and by the end of week three he started making some eye contact.
“By the end of week four, the creche, the physio and the occupational therapists had called me aside to know what the hell was going on â€“ he was meeting goals set for six months’ time!” the proud mum revealed.
“They were shocked but encouraging when I told them.”
By the end of month four, Joshua’s eye contact was fully back, his speech improved daily and he began playing with friends at school.
A few months later, he was kissing and hugging his sister, sleeping all night long, relaxed and happy.
“As the weeks passed we adjusted his dosage up a little until we got to a good balance â€“ gave him more on a bad day â€“ less on a good day â€“ but evened out to one dropper (approx. 1ml) every morning.”
Rhona even decided to try CBD oil herself, and said she noticed a definite difference in her stress levels, her energy and her sleep.
“I am still on them â€“ and what I find is they take the edge off a busy life plus I wake up in the morning with a to do list and I get it done instead of it racing around my head all day,” she added.
“And thatâ€™s how I think it works for Joshua â€“ I think it reduces the sensory elements and anxieties that autism creates so he can clear his head to focus on being in our world.”
She voiced her concern at the lack of progress on the medical cannabis bill in Ireland.
“Another point of the bill is that cannabis is a last resort,” she said.
“So a parent must spend years using pharmaceutical prescriptions on their children, and for all avenues to be exhausted before cannabis is even considered as a possibility.
“A balance must be found where parents are given a choice of either organic treatment, pharmaceutical treatment or a combination of both.”
Joshua is now four years old and doing really well. Because Charlotte’s Web is no longer available in Europe, they switched to an Irish oil called Greenheart CBD and are seeing even more positive developments.
“He is almost two years on CBD oil now, and he’s amazing. He’s now making full sentences and is in speech therapy to help with pronunciation.
“He goes to an ASD unit in preschool and is getting on great and they have said that he can go to mainstream school now for primary â€“ something we thought would never be possible.
“I’m not saying CBD oil gets rid of autism. It doesnâ€™t â€“ it’s still there and he still has odd bad days â€“ but they are rare now.
“I got my little boy back.”
Read more about Rhona’s family’s journey and CBD oil on Instagram @mollyandjoshua.
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