We were so thrilled to sit down with Erica Daniels, the Founder of Hope Grows for Autism, activist, and mother. She is truly an inspiration and light in the cannabis and autism communities, and she provides tools and education to families and individuals who can benefit the most from cannabis products.
Hope Grows for Autism is a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving the lives of families affected by autism through research, education, and advocacy of natural treatments. They are dedicated to bringing the government and private sectors together to raise awareness, fund research, find treatments to support those affected by autism.
Erica has a son with severe autism, who is now sixteen years old. When he was eleven, Erica found herself at a point where she had pretty much exhausted all of her options when it came to traditional treatments and therapies available. Coming from a place of desperation as a mother, she turned to cannabis as a possible solution. “Long story short, I ended up trying medical cannabis, and it worked so well. When I say it worked, he still has autism, he still struggles, but the symptoms associated with his autism such as anxiety, OCD, meltdowns, self-injurious behaviors pretty much diminished almost immediately. From there it just became sort of another educational route of learning as much as I could about the plant and what formulations might be appropriate for him and for other people with autism. I started talking about it a little bit, and there is a big difference between five years ago and now in terms of stigma and people talking about it, so I was afraid to tell anyone then. Even though it was legal in my state, it was still not very known by even legislators, and of course schools, and community resources, agencies like Family Court or Child Protective Services, and things like that. I started talking about it little by little with a group of other moms, and that's how Hope Grows For Autism was born.”
Cannabis was one of the last resorts for Erica and her family when it came to treatment, as is often the case. “People who are severe on the spectrum are the ones that are seeking out cannabis, and that makes sense because probably other traditional treatments haven't worked for them. I think it makes a difference of night and day if you look at my example. I am looking at a residential treatment facility vs medical cannabis. Of course, now in hindsight, it is an obvious answer, but then it wasn't.”
Something we love about Erica's story is how she incorporates food and diet into her care program for her family. You can see some of her delicious Allergen Free recipes in Cooking with Leo: An Allergen-Free Autism Family Cookbook.
Cannabis was a natural next step to balanced nature-based eating and physical activity. “It is sort of like a natural next step, it’s natural medicine. I almost kicked myself afterward saying, why didn’t I think of this or look at this before. The interesting thing about medical cannabis, (for us and for lots of people) it oftentimes, depending on what you’re using, quells the outward symptoms of autism that are really interfering and debilitating with someone's life in the short term. Then in the long term, you see the longer-term benefits that most patients with cannabis are seeing.” This leads to overall better mental and physical health. “When kids with autism, or anyone really, when you’re feeling better you’re able to do better. You do better at work, you do better at school, you’re able to pay attention...so we’re definitely seeing more positive things in the long term as well.”
For people who are interested in learning more about advocating for cannabis and autism, you should definitely check out Erica’s website at Hope Grows for Autism. They also have a Virtual Facebook Support Group where people can find other parents asking the same questions and looking to learn as much as they can. “Oftentimes, parents want to talk to me or someone specific from the organization. What I tell them is, if you ask in the group, or if you connect with these other parents you are going to get fifteen to twenty different answers as opposed to my one or two answers. It’s definitely a really valuable resource and it’s proven not just for cannabis but in general for support. We all need one another, especially during COVID it’s been so isolating, so it’s a really good place for our families to get support.”
This month Hope Grows For Autism is honoring AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH with Hope Grows for Autism Day! They are accepting donations and investments in Hope Grows for Autism as they continue to support autism patients and families all year long. She urges you to donate, share, and get involved however you can to help the cause!
When it comes to inspiration, Erica finds it in the families she helps through the organization. “I mean in the very beginning, when I first started doing this, we were like this underground network of parents. I would literally get a name of a family passed through three other families somewhere across the state, or even around the world. Just being able to help that person learn about, or access, cannabis medicine, and knowing that that saved their child, or their whole family really, from having to use something like an antipsychotic medication or a residential treatment facility, that's just...I can’t turn away from that. I don’t care what time of the day or night it is, when there is a child in need and I can help, there's just nothing better than that.” So inspiring and beautiful!
She wants there to be a broader understanding of the blockers to accessibility when it comes to cannabis and autism. “There is unfortunately so much red tape in between these patients and treatments, in particular medical cannabis. It’s just so sad that I live in PA and my son can access appropriate medicine here in PA, but if I drive to NJ Autism is not a qualifying condition, which is crazy because NJ has the highest autism rate in the country. “So it’s just like taking down those borders. It's really kind of like the most frustrating and challenging thing about this. Why are we having all of these legislators, and laws, and regulations, and red tape stand in the way of really desperate families that need help, and why do they have to be so desperate to get that help? I mean after everything I’ve learned there is nothing I can say more emphatically than cannabis should be a frontline treatment for autism, there’s no doubt about it.”
When it comes to what's next and exciting there are a few big things coming up for Erica and Hope Grows For Autism. “What I learned in my work with Hope Grows For Autism is that I can educate families, doctors, whomever until I am blue in the face but unless there is some kind of appropriate access or medicine waiting for them on the other side, it means nothing.” It was for this reason that she paired up with Zeliria Therapeutics, a leading global therapeutic medicinal cannabis company with access to the world’s largest and fastest-growing cannabis markets, to create the Hope line of products. “The Hope Range of products are medical cannabis tinctures formulated with autism in mind, Meaning we took data we had from the autism community and our scientists put together the best possible place to start from. We really went and created a safe and appropriate autism formulation for families to start with.” Unfortunately, because of state lines, it is only available in PA, LA, DC, AU, but they hope to have it available to more families across the US.
To learn more about Hope Grows For Autism, follow them on Instagram @hopegrows4autism, and check out their website https://hopegrowsforautism.org/. Please support Hope Grows for Autism Day by donating here.