Why I Give My Autistic Son Pot

Two years in, and I’m still flying solo

By Marie Myung-Ok Lee |  Published in Slate (excerpt)

Marie and her son, J, now 11. (Photo credit: Marie Myung-Ok Lee)

For two years now, my husband and I have been using medical cannabis—legally—to help soothe our autistic son’s gastrointestinal pain and decrease his concomitant violent behaviors.

As I’ve been chronicling in a series of columns… pot has allowed us to bypass the powerful psychotropic drugs that are often used to dull such aggressive outbursts but have a host of serious potential side effects—including permanent tics, diabetes, and death—and did nothing to address J’s pain.

Some of the responses to these columns suggest that I will not be up for Mother of the Year any time soon. “No poor child deserves to be attacked by marijuana when it is SUPPOSED to be protected!” read one such response on the parenting site Babble.com.

But I’ve received vociferous support from parents who say that, were they in my situation, they would do the same thing in a heartbeat.

I’ve also heard from parents who’ve started using cannabis for their own autistic children, with mostly good results and no serious side effects.

In our case, I would call our experiment a qualified success.

Not because cannabis has cured J, who’s now 11, or anything near it, but it’s alleviated some of his severest symptoms so that he, my husband, and I can actually enjoy each other, rather than being held hostage by his autism in a house full of screams, destruction, and three very unhappy people.

Over the years, we’ve experimented with dozens of marijuana strains to find the ones that work best for J, and we continue to fine-tune the formula.

Our grower has figured out how to extract the plants’ active properties into an olive oil tincture, which we can administer in precise amounts from a dropper. With more experience, we’ve learned to finesse the dose: more when J appears to be in a lot of pain, less when he’s okay.

When the dosing is perfect, J spends three or four hours much more relaxed and engaged than he was before; at night, he sleeps peacefully.

What is most exhilarating—and frightening—about this venture is the feeling that I have to reinvent the wheel for my son, and often have to re-reinvent it every day.

Certainly no one is saying, “Pot for your kid, what a great idea!”

There is no cannabis-autism doctor-expert, no book, no protocol for me to follow.

The best I can do is get tips from J’s grower, who has helped other patients, and puzzle out the biochemical aspects with help from J’s neurologist.


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Marie Myung-Ok Lee is an award-winning novelist and essayist. She teaches at Brown University. Follow her on Twitter.


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