I give my autistic son pot.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
April 19 2010 10:26 AM

Why I Give My 9-Year-Old Pot, Part 3

We hit a snag and made a big discovery about how medical marijuana works for him.

This is the third DoubleX essay from Marie Myung-Ok Lee about treating her autistic son with marijuana. Read her first essay  here and her second essay  here

Marie and her son. Click image to expand.
The author and her son

Last summer, we reached the six-month mark in our cannabis experiment. We'd been using medical marijuana to help quell our autistic son's gut pain and anxiety, and we were seeing some huge changes in his behavior and, presumably, his happiness. J was smiling, interacting (one of home-based therapists said she'd never encountered such an affectionate autistic child), even putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher—rinsing and everything!—not only without being told, but without ever having been asked to do such a thing. The more I'd been reading, along with J's doctor, about the effects of cannabis—analgesic, anti-anxiety, safe—the more it seemed a logical choice. I've also heard from other parents who've decided to try cannabis for their children. One of the kids has Smith-Magenis, a genetic disorder that includes autismlike behavioral symptoms including self-injury. Another is an autistic child who'd refused to eat and was near death. Post-marijuana, he is thriving. The Smith-Magenis boy, who'd been about to start court-ordered medication, is also doing well.

Then, after all this affirmative news and a beautiful summer, we hit a snag. But from it, we learned an awful lot about what the cannabis is doing for J.

Advertisement

Our mj farmer, Organic Guy, needs to make a living while he grows medical cannabis for his three patients. Being an illegal street drug dealer is lucrative; being a supplier of medical cannabis is not. By the law of our state, Rhode Island, Organic Guy is paid only for expenses. Growing J his medicine takes a lot of daily labor and infrastructure, but if Organic Guy has any extra harvest, he can only donate it, not sell it, to another licensed patient. Some states, such as Colorado, set up and regulate retail outlets for medical marijuana. In California, for instance, cannabis buyers' clubs, as they're called, actually outnumber Starbucks. But in Rhode Island, there are no such options for growers.

And so last summer, Organic Guy moved to one of the nearby resort islands to take a job at a restaurant. Before he pulled up stakes on his marijuana farm, he made sure that J had extra supplies, including stockpiling dried herb in the freezer of his accommodating parents. Organic Guy promised he'd start up again in the fall. J, in the meantime, was doing so beautifully on the cannabis that, since my husband, Karl, had the summer off, he made the heretofore unthinkable suggestion that I finally focus on my novel. I actually felt OK taking him up on the offer and spent a few weeks at the artists' colony Yaddo.

In September, Organic Guy returned, sans tan (he'd worked every minute he could), bearing more herb, just in time. He sounded like he was having a bit of trouble finding a new place to grow. Previously, he'd set up the plants in his apartment, but the security issues plus the skunky smell, which got into his hair and clothes, persuaded him not to do this again. I e-mailed around to see if some of my organic-food-growing, cheese-cave-using friends knew of a good spot. I'd so thoroughly begun to see cannabis in the same light as any other beneficial botanical we'd been giving J (like burdock root) that I neglected to mention I was inquiring on behalf of a licensed grower of medical cannabis. My friends wryly asked if I was starting my own illicit organic-pot operation. I cleared up the confusion, but no leads turned up.

In the meantime, cracks started to appear in J's cannabis-aided serenity. One day, his frustration boiled over into a tantrum. Next, hits. An occasional bite. Then the fabric-ripping screaming, sitting with toes pointing down at the floor—his clearest pain sign. Next, he woke up at night, crying and screaming when he had to go to the bathroom. One day, I noticed—could it be?—toothmarks on the neckline of his pajama top (pre-cannabis, he used to chew and eat his shirts and bedding). I went over his diet with a fine-tooth comb, looking for possible allergens I'd overlooked. I even upped his cannabis dose a bit by adding one more pot cookie. It only made him alternately a bit silly and belligerent. The number of reports he brought home for acting aggressive at school started to tick upward. For Karl and me, this backslide was awful, like when J was 2 years old and started to lose his words. I couldn't believe it was happening.

I called Organic Guy, to see if he had any ideas.

"It could be because he's not getting any White Russian," he said. "The stuff you have is, well, a mix of all the stuff I had left."

It took me a second to understand. J was getting a mix of Organic Guy's odds and ends.

"Is there any White Russian in this mix?"

"Nope."

"And when will you be getting more?"

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Books
Sept. 17 2014 10:36 AM MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel Recounts Telling Her Mother About Her Best-Selling Memoir MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel recounts telling her mother about her best-selling memoir.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 17 2014 11:06 AM Inside the Exclusive World of Members-Only Clubs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 11:14 AM How Does That Geometry Problem Make You Feel? Computer tutors that can read students’ emotions.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.