Can Marijuana Help Kids with Autism?

As the mother of an autistic child, Marie Myung-Ok Lee is navigating uncharted territory as she struggles to manage her son’s condition. She has bravely come forward to share her son’s battle with this mysterious disorder, and to discuss how medical marijuana has brought them both back from the brink of despair.

During what Marie calls the “dark phase,” her son J had unpredictable mood swings that could erupt into fitful rages. Her 9-year-old would scream during lengthy tantrums, he refused to eat and threw his food on the floor. J broke plates, windows, and other household items as a way of expressing his pain and frustration. The family would hide out within the confines of their home until the darkness passed.

J’s behavior disrupted his school performance and terrified the staff. “The teachers were wearing tae kwon do arm pads to protect themselves against his biting,” Marie said. The school monitored J’s daily outbursts on an “aggression chart” that documented as many as 300 episodes in one day that involved hitting, kicking, biting, or pinching another person.

With her son in crisis, Marie had no choice but to perform an intervention. But the only solution offered by child psychiatrists came in a pill bottle. “His school tried to force us to medicate him,” says Marie, who feared the risk of dangerous side effects associated with commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal. Many of the FDA-approved drugs on the market used to treat symptoms of autism have no proven safety track record for use in children.

Despite the unknown risks, more kids are using prescription drugs than ever before. The number of children on psychiatric meds has skyrocketed in recent years, according to reports in medical journals such as Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Prescription drug use is growing faster among children than the elderly and baby boomers. But when it comes to medicating kids with marijuana, the issue becomes taboo.

“There’s no such thing as a harmless drug, but marijuana is much less harmful than other drugs,” said Lester Grinspoon, M.D., a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Grinspoon is a leading expert in the field of medical marijuana, who has authored several books on the subject. “No one in the world has died from marijuana,” insists Grinspoon, who has spent four decades researching the illicit drug.

Undeterred by the social stigma, Marie pursued this more natural approach to calm J’s demons. After discussing her wishes with J’s pediatrician, Marie decided to check out Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, which is the primary cannabinoid in marijuana. After fine-tuning J’s dosage, she began hearing praises like, “J was a pleasure to have in speech class,” instead of complaints about his violent episodes.

After a few months, J built up a tolerance to the drug and his unruly behavior returned. “The drawback of taking Marinol is that it’s only THC. That’s the most powerful cannabinoid, but it may not be the most relevant,” said Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. Earleywine says there are about 70 different cannabinoids in the marijuana plant, many of which have medicinal value. Marie decided to take a chance on the real deal.

All it took was a signed prescription and a background check for J to become the youngest person in Rhode Island to obtain a license for pot. After buying some marijuana-infused olive oil, Marie made a batch of pot cookies. That night, J ate half of one cookie and “he was tired and conked out,” said Marie, who checked hourly on his sleep, “half-expecting some red-eyed ogre from Reefer Madness to come leaping out at us.” To her relief, J slept soundly and appeared happy and mellow the next day.

Over the past four months, Marie has documented her son’s progress in an online blog entitled, Why I Give My 9-Year-Old Pot, Part II. While she doesn’t believe marijuana is a cure for autism, it “allows J to participate more fully in life without the dangers and sometimes permanent side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.” Dr. Grinspoon has seen positive results with a number of his autistic patients who are undergoing pot therapy. “I can confidently say to a parent that marijuana relieves some types of pain. It’s not going to hurt them if you use it responsibly,” Grinspoon says. Ingesting the drug works better because the effects can last up to eight hours. “A little goes a long way,” says Earleywine, who reminds parents that the drug can take up to an hour and a half to kick in, “so wait a little while before administering any more.”

While a growing number of distressed parents are turning to the herbal remedy, many moms with autistic kids are skeptical. “I feel it does more harm than good,” says Trish, the mother of a 7-year-old boy with autism. “You are sedating the child, not treating the cause of the rage.” Trish believes that medicating kids with pot is a cop-out. “Nobody said parenting was going to be easy, or that the solution to every problem is to get our children stoned.”

The mainstream medical community shuns the subject, and the government refuses to fund any research that would legitimize marijuana use in treating autism or aggression disorders. “Marijuana is a very loaded subject,” says Cara Natterson, M.D., a pediatrician and mother of two. “As a parent and as a pediatrician, I feel a responsibility to know that what I am putting into a child — mine or someone else’s — is safe and tested.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the legalization of marijuana, but does support further research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis. “We need to make sure the treatment is safe — we haven’t done that,” Natterson adds. The doctor can sympathize with parents who desperately want to help their child. “But wanting to advocate for your child and making sure your child is safe are two different things,” Natterson said.

Marie is confident that she has made the right choice when she sees J’s transformation. “He doesn’t look stoned. He just looks like a happy little boy.”

– Article from

Cannabis helps save Autistic boy’s life

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  1. Anonymous on

    You would give your child adderall or ritalin and it is just a legal form a meth, and we know how bad that is on the heart and boy but giving your child and herb, which you add to foods along with spces all the time, is considered harmful. I do not understand the logic.

  2. Anonymous on

    What have you been reading? I have never read any aspects of marijuana that said it was harmful. I understand the concern wit giving it to children but i myself have an autistic son and if it would help I would much rather given hime something nature grew than scientist designed in a lab with chemical I have never heard of.How about doing more research into a topic before you judge it so harshly. It is prescribed as a medication in some cases so you cannot say it is not medicine.

  3. LeeAnn on

    I think that it is very sad that people think it is ok to give our children medication’s that have harmful side effects. People think it is ok to feed our children Adderall, Ritalin, anti depressants, that can cause hallucinations, serious weight loss, tremors, heart problems, I can go on and on. But when it comes to using something more natural people start talking about witch doctors. I have mental health issues and have suffered with my own demons my whole life. I tried many different prescription’s that did not help and usually made my problems worse. My doctor suggested I try marijuana and I did, well if it is so bad and so evil why is it that is the only thing that has helped me? Think before you speak or write people.

  4. Dad on

    The marijuana was given after other prescription drugs were, and not just to “cure” autism, but to manage dangerous behaviors. You have to look at the entire picture. Take a look at my own son’s situation, and tell me that after trying Haldon, Ativan, Risperdal, Valium, and numerous other drugs (NONE of those have had proper testing to see how they affect a developing brain), you wouldn’t try cannabis. Please, take a look and tell me you’d just keep moving forward with very dangerous medications that WERE NOT WORKING:

  5. Anonymous on

    But it’s DOPE and smoking will KILL you! It literally comes from HELL!!

  6. Anonymous on

    As LONG as you keep CAPITALIZING the THINGS you write it makes what you SAY true. MARIJUANA aka DEVIL’S WEED is NOT MEDICINE!!

  7. Anonymous on

    As long as some dude wrote a book about it, that makes it true.

  8. Anonymous on

    You said that marijuana will not be legalized for a very long time, well, I have news for you. Marijuana was already legalized in Denver when you typed that, and as a resident of the Denver area, I can honestly say, it’s working. There have been no crimes, deaths, etc, involving the herb. Honestly, if the government started selling it, in legal form, our economy would NOT be suffering.

  9. Anonymous on

    I just wanted to say that your statement about “child abuse” is not only WRONG, but also close minded and illogical. You are entitled to an opinion, and your opinion is clear; little kids shouldn’t INGEST marijuana. However, to say that you’ll stick with “real” and “normal” doctors that won’t harm your children with drugs that haven’t been tested for long term effects, is VERY ignorant. Would you ever give your child the swine flu vaccine? The chicken pox vaccine? An anti-psychotic or anti-depressant as a teenager? A sleep aid in his/her youth? Or even a Ritalin to treat add/adhd? If you answered “yes” to ANY of these, then by your standards, you’re a child abuser. The majority of medications they prescribe to children and young adults in America, have not had proper or prolonged testing for future problems or side effects. Doctors are quick to diagnose and prescribe without administering beneficial alternatives or performing further testing on the child. Over 30% of children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD are misdiagnosed because doctors are not taking the time to do behavioral and mental evaluations. They simply slap a statistical ailment on your child and proceed to medicate.

    A VERY good example of this is my best friend in high school. She was losing drastic amounts of weight and was getting severe pain in her limbs and torso, in addition to migraines. Despite what her mom and herself told them, they diagnosed her with anorexia and sent her to the hospital. Four years of pain, heartache, and a misdiagnosis of an eating disorder, she sought help form a homeopathic and alternative medicinal physician. After ONE visit, the physician determined, through a thorough examination and a simple ultra sound, that my best friend had a parasite she’d picked up while on vacation in Belize with her family. After a full body cleanse, strict diet, and the help from some herbal remedies, she is doing WONDERFUL.

    Doctors needlessly put her through pain and misery with misdiagnosis and administering medications that were not relevant to the issue at hand. Alternative medicine and a homeopathic physician are what cured her, not your chemical pumped, synthetic, medications. You really should do a little bit of research before stepping up to the podium with an argumentative stance. While I would not give my children marijuana for recreational purposes, I would give it to them for medical reasons. I would much rather my children ingest (and just to be clear: in*gest [in-jest] – –verb (used with object) 1. to take, as food, into the body)a natural herbal remedy, that helps ease pain, than watch him/her suffer for eternity.

    10 facts for future reference (Just to set things straight for you):

    1. There have been NO recorded deaths of overdose from marijuana.
    2. The first federal vote to prohibit marijuana was based entirely on a documented lie on the floor of the Senate.
    3. The history of marijuana’s criminalization is filled with racism, fear, protection of corporal profits, yellow journalism, Ignorant, Incompetent, and/or Corrupt Legislators, and personal Career Advancement and Greed of political figures and politicians.
    4. Marijuana has been illegal for less than 1% of the time that it has been in use.
    5. Its known uses go back further than 7,000 B.C. and it was legal as recently as when Ronald Reagan was a boy.
    6. In 1619, legislators of Jamestown Colony, Virginia passed a “must grow” law on indian hempseed. It actually was illegal to not grow this plant during shortages. It was used for food, incense, cloth, rope, and much more. It was even a form of legal tender!
    7. In 1910, the revolution in mexico spilled over the american border. General Pershing’s army clashing with bandit Pancho Villa. Later in that decade, bad feelings developed between the small farmer and the large farms that used cheaper Mexican labor. Then the depression hit; resources became scarce. The biggest “issue” between Pershing and Villa, was the fact that many Mexicans smoked marijuana and had brought the plant with them, and it was through this that California apparently passed the first state marijuana law, outlawing “preparations of hemp, or loco weed.”
    8. In the eastern states, the “problem” was attributed to a combination of Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the time (Louis Armstrong’s “Muggles”, Cab Calloway’s “That Funny Reefer Man”, Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag”). Again, racism was part of the charge against marijuana, as newspapers in 1934 editorialized: “Marijuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”
    9. In 1931, Dr. A. E. Fossier wrote “Under the influence of hashish those fanatics would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre every one within their grasp.” Within a very short time, marijuana started being linked to violent behavior.
    10. During this time, the United States was also dealing with alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933. Alcohol prohibition was extremely visible and debated at all levels, while drug laws were passed without the general public’s knowledge. National alcohol prohibition happened through the mechanism of an amendment to the constitution.

    There are MANY, MANY, more reasons for the illegalization of marijuana, but I’ll stop here and let you use that wonderful muscle, THE BRAIN, and do some research of your own.

    So all in all, when you lay out the facts, marijuana is logically a safer bet for this autistic child.

  10. greg williams on

    I am advocating what might work for a person in need, regardless of age. This should be about wellness, not hype.

    As far as kids smoking dope? The Dean at the School of Nursing in Davenport Iowa actually took the time to study cultures where young people did use cannabis with their parents. The results after extensive studies are that parents who used cannabis with their kids had a better bond with their children, read more to them, spent more time with them, were more involved in their lives, and had a loving and caring relationship with them. None of the kids died. None of them went on to shoot heroin. They excelled in school. They got along well with others.

    Now, before you go off on me with your codeine nicotine caffeine eyes a blarin’, take a deep breath and ask yourself…
    ” What if Marijuana helped my child when other remedies were failing or were just simply to dangerous to risk”

    Would you be more concerned for your childs well-being, or would you worry too much about what your neighbors and others thought?

  11. Anonymous on

    What if it wasn’t smoked but rather ingested? Would that make a difference to you? it would to me. I do not support smoking cannabis for children but eating it, now that’s a different story. You keep coming back to this topic attacking rather than opening up to another possibility. If it’s not something you are open to then that’s fine, but please don’t try and make people who have children whom benefit from cannabis feel as though they are harshly judged by those who stick to the main stream way of treating their ill children. And it wasn’t a witch doctor who suggested it to these parents.

  12. David on

    I’d rather children not smoke anything regardless of how much it helps them. Since marijuana can be ingested orally it does not need to be inhaled by children. It should be put into their food instead.

  13. Devil's Advocate on

    My last word on the subject is this… If you continue advocating smoking dope for ANY reason with a little kid any political clout we had growing will flee like rats from a sinking ship. Mainly because your ignorance will have sunk the ship. Go to the nearest doctor , hospital or police man and tell them how you know that smoking dope with a lil kid helps his autism, Crohn’s, or any other condition and see what you get. I double DOG dare you. cowards.

  14. Anonymous on

    How did Dr. Cheech know the cannabis would help BEFORE they tried it? How does he know there is no harm done? She isn’t a doctor. Why not heroin? I’m sure his condition would REALLY improve with a syringe full of that shit administered by mom too! Leave meds to the doctors, you (and I) are not qualified. Yes I know you smoke and it’s awefully nifty , far out and right on man! but you(i am assuming) are an adult not a lil kid!

  15. Dan-o on

    And each of those were tested and retested by doctors BEFORE being given to children. That is a far cry from some bong hugging dolt giving SMOKED cannabis to a child. I simply can NOT believe you actually support giving smoked cannabis to a little kid, you people are sick.You keep trusting your witch doctors, I’ll stick with real medicine thanks. Cannabis legalization will never happen so long as this continues.

  16. greg williams on

    ” choices” is a great word at any age.
    IMO, heres the choice we face in this case.

    We decide what is worst to witness. A young Person smoking a substance that improves his or her medical condition.

    We decide that we’d rather watch a child who has help available, regardless of how its injested, and find the pain and behavior they go through more acceptable to witness. ( Kids inject medicines every day).

  17. Anonymous on

    So you aren’t shoving pharmaceutical’s down your child’s throat either then? You child must be a high functioning case of autism then and then likely would not need cannabis for the condition. It’s obvious from the video that it can save a child’s life in worst case scenario’s and maybe your the one with intellectual issues if you can’t admit that in some cases it’s what’s best for the child.

  18. Anonymous on

    So you aren’t shoving pharmaceutical’s down your child’s throat either then? You child must be a high functioning case of autism then and then likely would not need cannabis for the condition. It’s obvious from the video that it can save a child’s life in worst case scenario’s and maybe your the one with intellectual issues if you can’t admit that in some cases it’s what’s best for the child.

  19. str8upstoner on

    I’m almost positive that you will not find one person in here that would say it’s OK for children to be smoking cannabis recreationally,However considering what doctors can prescribe to our children already I think Cannabis should be an alternative in cases like this I mean really their are over a million children in the US today being medicated with pharmacuetical grade methamphetamine(ritalin focalin conerta adderol)all of which have horrible side effects on our kids and could even possibly kill them so Cannabis as a prescribed medicine for children should be allowed.

  20. Str8upstoner on

    Your right kids aren’t our guinea pigs yet since the 70’s we’ve pumped pharmacueticals into our kids which include ritalin, adderol, concerta, and now focalin among others all of which have potentially deadly side effects from increased thoughts of suicide to heart palpitations seizures or even death and we continue to spoon feed it to them today and we know what the side effects are and their almost all bad so what the fuck, a parent medicates her child with the most non-toxic substance known to man,not to mention the fact that we as humans evolved with this plant over millenia to the point were we actually have Cannabinoid receptors in our brains,and immune systems,and now all of a sudden she’s a child abuser,pharmacuetical companies are the ones who are abusing our children and it’s not about compassion it’s about profits to them so if you want to continue to give your kids poison from Big Pharma that’s your perogitive,I’ll pray for your children.

  21. David on

    I’m glad you decided on a different picture Gina. That 7-10 year old before with the joint in his hand wasn’t the best of choices considering a child that age shouldn’t be smoking anything.

  22. David on

    I meant to say scare tactics. I hope it helps.

  23. Devil's Advocate on

    With the fact that many in the cannabis community think that it is ok to give marijuana to kids, I can see now why legalization is a long long (if ever) time coming. Many of you truely are stupid.

  24. David on

    Norml’s frequent guest on the daily audio stash is Dr. Mitch Earlywhine from the university of NY at Albany. He has a book out called A Parents Guide To Marijuana. He explains what marijuana is, what to say to your children about marijuana without using the scar tactics that don’t work, and why kids shouldn’t use marijuana until their 18.

  25. Anonymous on

    As his/her last sentence says, Kids are not our guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are. Before you pop off and try meds on a child, don’t you think we should KNOW what if any effect and side effect it will have? Anything less is foolish and potentially hazardous not to mention in most places…child abuse.

  26. Anonymous on

    it was great to see dr. drew was all for the idea =)

  27. Anonymous on

    it was great to see dr. drew was all for the idea =)

  28. jbird on

    With their PROVEN track record and ZERO side effects, why even ATTEMPT using natural derivatives as a balance to SYNTHETICS?

    Who knows how deep the rabbit hole is in regard to the medicinal qualities of cannabis? It’s hard enough to test it for any reason in this age of prohibition, let alone even think of acquiring permission to administer to children. Don’t forget the interconnectivity of cannabinoid receptors with our various biological systems…

    You should read her entire article and some of the relevant comments. One individual wrote a lengthy response saying he had self medicated his autism for 20 years+. Obviously not a child, but putting a child in front of a TV for longer than an hour is child abuse. Searching for answers in this day of complete prohibition is inspiring to say the least.

  29. Dan-o on

    I am very relaxed thank you. And no, I do not think I am being harsh by labeling giving an untested drug of any kind to a kid, child abuse.You do not know what cannabis does to a developing mind and neither do I. In fact I’d bet no doctors do either, because it is untested. Kids are not our guinea pigs you fucking moron.

  30. Anonymous on

    I agree but with our current knowledge we can certainly assume that if you have to give a 4 1/2 year old any kind of medicine, cannabis would be the safest. More research needs to be done on the medical benefits of cannabis on youth. Quality of life is of the greatest importance.

  31. Anonymous on

    oh relax lady! don’t you think your being a bit harsh labeling it as child abuse? Puh-lease. Why don’t you try it and see what the present moment effects are. Taking care of the present moment has a way of working out the future. Try it before you knock it.

  32. Dan-o on

    My son falls into the autistic spectrum. While I personally use cannabis, I will NOT even think of giving it to a 4 1/2 year old untill more is known of it’s effects on a developing brain. To do so without full knowledge is…sad to say child abuse.

  33. Anonymous on

    Quality of life for people is very important when treating diseases. From the look of things, his quality of life and general health substantially improved after switching from the toxic pharmaceutical chemicals to cannabis.

    Due to the illegal status of formal cannabis research within the United States, people often suffer needlessly because they are unaware of how cannabis can help.