Kara Zartler suffers from cerebral palsy and autism. Her condition compels her to ball up her fists and hit herself in the head over and over, sometimes for hours on end. As a young girl, the only solution doctors offered was massive doses of anti-psychotics. A pharmacist once told the Zartlers that their 45-pound daughter was being prescribed the same level of sedatives reserved for a 2,000-pound horse.
For years, the Zartlers believed their only choice was between keeping Kara sedated to a dangerous level, or keeping one parent on duty 24 hours a day to make sure their daughter didn’t injure herself. Then, in a last-ditch effort to find their child some peace, the Zartlers committed a felony. On the recommendation of a neighbor, they administered an edible dose of marijuana to their ailing daughter. In doing so, the Zartlers became one of the growing number of parents of autistic and epileptic children willing to break the law in the hopes of offering their kids a better life.
The Zartler’s case is one of several stories featured in Weediatrics: A Covert Medical Mission, a new documentary from director John Ehrhard. The film goes inside the home of average families dealing with the intricacies of raising kids battling lifelong diagnoses. These are families who have exhausted every legal means of relief under the sun, only to come up empty. In a lot of cases, involvement from the pharmaceutical industry makes things worse. Marijuana is never the first option for these families, but, as Weediatrics demonstrates, it often turns out to be a Godsend.
Daily doses of marijuana enable previously distraught, low-functioning children to show signs of astonishing cognitive and behavioral improvement. What begins as a harrowing glimpse into modern medicine’s shocking inability to diagnose and care for children in distress becomes a cry for reform and research as anecdotal evidence mounts that the active ingredients in marijuana could make a significant difference in the life of a child with epilepsy or autism. Weediatrics argues that government bias against marijuana has created an element of paranoia and fear around the substance, eliminating a resource that could help thousands of children.
The most impactful arguments in Weediatrics come from the families brave enough (or frustrated enough) to tell their story in public, even though, in each case, this confession means a visit from Child Protective Services. These are parents advocating for change, even though speaking out could mean time in prison or the loss of their children.
Still, Weediatrics deserves credit for keeping a level head. It doesn’t make martyrs of its cast. There’s no engrained agenda, here. Instead, the film uses the example of families like the Zartlers to make the case that extensive scientific study and open discussion is the only way forward. There are no hard solutions in Weediatrics, only possibilities, and that’s the way the film wants things.