Marijuana for Autism Sparks Debate

marijana for autism

As the the 2012 election year shifts into full gear, the subject of legalizing marijuana has yet again come to the forefront. Most notably, Ron Paul has gained a large following of pro-marijuana advocates, citing his consistent pot-friendly stance during his 30-year tenure in the House of Representatives.

Outside of the realm of politics, marijuana also has the autism community talking, with many questioning the safeness and efficacy of the drug for those on the autism spectrum.

In 2009, Mieko Hester-Perez made national headlines for giving her then-ten-year-old son marijuana, which she claims saved his life. With her son Joey’s weight dropping to a dangerous 46 lbs. due to his very poor diet, Perez began prescribed treatments of marijuana-laced brownies, which caused the youngster to immediately gain 38 lbs., restoring his health in the process. In addition to an increased appetite, Perez also claims the marijuana helped curb her son’s self-injurious behavior, wandering and aggressive demeanor — all within a short period of time.

As the Perez story made the rounds, other desperate families quickly followed suit, creating a huge tug-of-war debate about the ethical, legal and health implications of medical marijuana for autism.

Not surprisingly, some physicians have been very critical of its use and claim there is little data to support its effectiveness and argue that prolonged treatments can have huge implications for those on the autism spectrum. And as one of our authors pointed out in a story last year, the use of psychotropics and other mind-altering drugs for autism almost always result in undesired consequences.

I agree that we should be extremely wary of putting anything in our children’s bodies that will affect their mood, behavior or psychological state. However, playing the role of devil’s advocate, it’s also very difficult to argue against the success Mieko Hester-Perez has experienced with her child.

We would love to get your thoughts on this topic — please let us know what you think in the comment section below.

27 Responses to Marijuana for Autism Sparks Debate

  1. I’ve taken medical marijuana bought from Health Canada for reflex sympathetic dystrophy since 2007. I must reapply through the Minister of Justice and Minister of health for special authorization to use medical marijuana every year.

    Medical Marijuana does not have a drug identification number (DIN) so it is not a prescription that can be pay for with insurance. There are different kinds of marijuana to treat different kinds of disorders. My medical marijuana stops my pain just as quickly as the spinal blocks my pain specialist gives me does. Neither spinal blocks or medical marijuana cure reflex sympathetic dystrophy, so they are both part of my treatment plan.

    I believe that medical marijuana would treat successfully many disorders that people with autism have. I believe that a lot of research must be done.

    Today I am back teaching therapeutic riding and running a Horse Boy ™ for autistic families. I lead a secret life because I must use medical marijuana to enjoy my happy active life. Medical marijuana has a dopey social stigma to it. I am poor but joyfully working. Medical marijuana is too effective for me not to not use it.

    Without marijuana I walk loopy because I loose sensation in my left foot and leg. Without marijuana my foot feels frozen all the time, leg spasms come all night long, my hip aches from compensating. I’ve been stuck in town in my car for hours waiting for my pain to subside so I can drive home. Without marijuana I cannot stand for more than 20 minutes or sit for 20 minutes and not being able to rest for more than 20 minutes makes sleeping impossible. Before medical marijuana I took a few prescriptions that were addictive, made me jerk a lot and I couldn’t remember to finish a sentence. I was over weight and still felt in pain. I didn’t work. I was suicidal.

    Medical Marijuana pretty much turned all that around for me.

    I wish the stigma was dropped and cannabis was researched for all the benefits the different strains offer. Mankind need not suffer needlessly.

    Doctors have been around for a few hundred years. Cannabis has been around and used by traditional healers/shamans in every period and every culture though out time. Doctors need to do the research, and shut up until they do.

    For references to strains and other information on medical marijuana just contact me.


  2. Elena Sotomayor says:

    Hello. Thanks to Mrs. Perez for being so brave this is a true mothers love in action. I have grandson who is autistic and only someone who has been in the same situation knows how difficult it is 24 hrs per day 7 days a week.

    This is my daughters story and she gets help from grandma grandpa and uncle. It take a village to raise a child with medical issues. I thank the brave moms out there, and also all the teachers the teachers aids the doctors who are willing to try new things. to help our children in need.

    And yes I think medical marajuana is a great idea. It sure beats all the pyschotrophic drugs out there, that are being prescribed to our loved ones. Marajuana is a plant what more natural can we get, and not addictive. My prays are out there for all the famlies with a child with medical needs.

    One more thing i have mutiple sclerosis and arthrities. and yes when it get bad the pain I do use medical marajuana but this has been kept confidential until today. It takes the pain not away, but I can manage the pain clean my house manage to get out of bed and be a productive individual. Good Luck a very concered mother and grandmother.

  3. Hank says:

    Question for Dr. Paul: Would you be willing to within 90 days of taking office – sign an Executive order to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I (no medicinal value) to a Schedule II (there is a medicinal value and would make research more affordable and clinical trials could finally begin). This issue has been ignored by the DEA for over 25 years. (see Francis L. Young below)

    The point: Why would the Government send tins of 300 joints to 4 individuals every month in the United States and why does the Government have a patent on Cannibinoids as Antioxidents & Neuroprotectants (Google search – “Patent 6630507″) if they still believe there is no medicinal value? This policy simply does not make any sense, and by simply ignoring these facts, people wonder what on earth are they thinking.

    Below you will find the conclusion from the DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L Young from 1988 –
    September 6, 1988.
    Docket No. 86-22.
    Francis L. Young, DEA Administrative Law Judge

    Highlights of the Judge’s decision:
    “Based upon the facts established in this record and set out above, one must reasonably conclude that there is accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision.” “To conclude otherwise, on this record, would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious….”

    “The cannabis plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is no lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision and it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II. The judge recommends that the Administrator transfer cannabis .”

    Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana (cannabis) is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.

  4. Nicole says:

    I am always perplexed at peoples rush to judgement concerning this as an alternative way to treat our children. The current approved drugs to treat a child with autism have potential horrible and devestating side effects but that doesn’t seem to cause judgement. I think that every possible idea should at least be considered as THE Parents have to choose and then live with the outcome of those choices for their child.

  5. 333maxwell says:

    I’ve worked with and around many autistic people, young and old.

    Knowing what I also know about marijuana, from not only first hand experiences using it, but decades of research (at a hobbyist level)
    along the way. I am inclined to suggest ‘trying’ cannabis (especially
    the eaten form) for those with many forms of autism couldn’t be any
    more harmful, or less effective than many traditional medications
    afforded by prescription to these people already.

    in fact knowing what I also know about marijuana, from not only first hand experiences using it, but decades of research (at a hobbyist level) I am inclined to think that marijuana may indeed be beneficial.

    I am under the belief that with some supervision (as to tincture and mild dosing) one wouldn’t have anything to lose in many cases, and perhaps everything to gain. Marijuana in many people produces a slight euphoric content feeling and helps people with wandering minds slow down…..

    I’m not suggesting anyone go out and do this of course.. I am just saying MY personal thoughts and feelings, and I know if it were my child/dependent and we had been on the ropes and things are not getting better and I was at a stand still for some time.. I’d entertain possibly introducing small doses of edible marijuana into their regimen … I’d talk with my doctor first of course …MAYBE.. depends on what state I was in I suppose.. Doctors don’t have to live with the person day in and day out.. only the person themselves.. and if they find relief from a small amount of edible marijuana, weirder things have happened.

  6. paul says:

    i have bipoler disorder and marijuana helps me thow life and if it wasnt for marijuana i would of took my life a long time ago

  7. warning from mom says:

    My son used marijuana heavily from age 12 and refused to stop despite treatment, sanctions, etc. He was extremely addicted. He was out of control. A year ago he devoped psychosis and mania and was hospitalized but then kept using marijuana. When he used medical marijuana a psychotic episode was triggered. Combining marijuana and psychotropic drugs can also be problemstic as one cannot distinguish the effects of either. Many studies show a relationship between psychosis and schizophrenia and marijuana. Parents of bipolar children frequently cite marijuana use as a presursor. If you want to give a mentally ill or autistic child marijuana, I suggest you look at these scientific studies which can be easily found on reputable websites. Also look at studies that show children become addicted to marijuana much more easily than adults. My son is now stable and not using marijuana and is coherent and functioning much better. Giving marijuana to children or any other potent drug is child abuse. I say this even about many of the drugs now legally being prescribed to children. Thinking that marijuana is better than the psychotropics is a mistake. Don’t listen to the hype–this is a dangerous drug.

  8. to mom says:

    so you’d rather give your son barbiturates, amphetamines, and opiates?? Get real!!! Zanex, meth, and heroin is what i hear when i see those words. Its a joke to give your child something that KILLS THOUSANDS of people every day as apposed to something that has killed NO ONE from over-use. I think its pretty cut and dry. Id rather have my son be content with smoking pot than addicted to his prescribed medication which is PHYSICALLY addicting as apposed to psychologically. Along with ALCOHOL(witch i cant for the life of me see how that piece of shit drug is legal and pot isn’t)along with opiates (which so happens to be a choice for children with severe forms of autism) are the only chemicals that we can ingest to make us have actual physical addictions. A physical addiction is when you don’t have the substance it triggers an intense physical response a.k.a shakes, cold sweats, vomiting ext. When you don’t have pot as a person because it is a physiological addiction the worst you might get for maybe a couple days is radical behavior and that’s it. So which would you have if you HAD to chose. Please stop ignoring the facts its ignorant as hell.

    ps to warning from mom
    It sounds like your kid was going to be addicting to anything you tried to give him and there is nothing you could have done about it. Denial is very unbecoming of a person.

  9. As an author on medical marijuana, I have heard a growing number of anecdotal reports affirming the usefulness of cannabis for autism. As in other disorders, cannabis is not a magic bullet for all patients, and may have adverse effects in some cases. In others, however, it can have unique benefits. Given that cannabis has negligible toxicity, there is no reason for patients or their physicians to be afraid to give it a try.

  10. Grateful says:

    I too have RSD, from a needle wound during a blood draw. Because I was hurt at the hospital, they delayed treating me, despite the incredible pain and sudden loss of my ability to walk. A friend suggested MM and it saved my life.

    I researched and studied RSD, treatments and cures, and saw 1) there is no cure, 2) a large enough segment of RSD patients do NOT get any relief from the prescribed treatments, some get a lot worst, 3) the hospital where I was hurt was already doing trials on MM for RSD. The doctors were flabbergasted that I knew about the study since it ‘wasn’t published.’ Well, it was right there on the internet!

    3 years later, the hospital and insurance battling, I don’t know what I would have done.

    Then, because I didn’t have the extreme symptoms like everyone else, doctors took advantage and said I didn’t have VRSD. (it was later confirmed by the specialists) I explained that I might be the only RSD patient who has used nothing but MM, and would they study me to learn more? Especially given it was possible that the medications being given to RSD patients are CAUSING some of the more extreme symptoms. (RSD is still not understood)

    I found/find it unacceptable that the doctors have to act deaf and blind in reference to MM when we need studies!

    Well, now, the institution has prescribed MM to children with this condition, start cutting prescription drugs in half and start using MM.

    I was very glad to hear it frankly because I know the relief I have had.

    I will not buy anymore of this 1950′s bogey man theory about MM. Studies have proven it to be non-addictive, there appears to be no impact on the lungs, even when smoked, and there are studies now showing, in fact, MM might attack and cure tumors.

    Its proven that MM is not a ‘gateway’ to psychosis and other drugs. Its a myth.

    Hemp is a gateway to a sustainable energy policy but I digress.

    Eating MM is also very good, and I use creams for my legs and arms when the pain is high from going out walking.

    UCSF has just published a study about the amazing healing properties of eating MM, and one of their researchers is speaking on the incredible curative properties of eating the plant itself.

    I had and still have good health despite this Venipuncture RSD. I didn’t see the point of instead taking all kinds of pain killers and drugs to mess up my system. MM is complementary, not destructive.

    I hope sharing my story can be useful.

    After many years I am deciding to share openly the benefits I’ve had. Maybe if we honestly speak about the benefits, science and medicine and the law will catch up?

    I find the politics unconscionable for people in need with the one of the highest pain levels known to man, or woman.

  11. If people knew a little more science they would understand what a unique medicine cannabis is. Ironically, everything in our bodies is controlled by the pot that we make (endocannabinoids, cannabis from within). Illnesses are imbalances in our biochemical flow and cannabis has a unique ability to restore biochemical balance (homeostasis). Most physicians are decades behind the science and thus we should not expect intelligent opinions from them on this topic, Dr. Paul being an exception although his position probably comes from his libertarian philosophy rather than his knowledge of Cannabis Science. His candidatcy give cannabis truth seekers an important opportunity to make a change. We should all vote for him. Even if he loses our voice will be heard.

  12. Joey says:

    This is a no brainer. Marijuana is just about the safest drug I’ve ever even heard of. If it helps your child go for it. You can’t base decisions on old wives tales and silly monster stories. Marijuana isn’t grown in hell and Satan isn’t promoting its use. We have more to fear from a single liquor store than all the marijuana on earth. Marijuana is safer than a bottle of advil, end of discussion.

  13. Creek says:

    Regarding the legitimate concern raised about psychotropic drugs: when psych pharmaceuticals are prescribed for some neurological conditions (like M.E. and Fibromyalgia, possibly related to autism) they can cause terrible adverse effects.

    Cannabis on the other hand can be had in high-cbd strains and vapourised instead of smoked, enhancing the anti-inflammatory and pain-relief effects while minimising psychotropic effects. I wonder if these strains and methods might be as effective in autism.

  14. Given the safety of cannabis compared to conventional medications, cannabis is much safer. Cannabis has a rich history of medicinal use throughout the ages. Our U.S. legislators started the “marijuana” prohibition in the 1930s with a “reefer madness” campaign that spread lies about this “new” drug menace used by Negroes and Mexicans and the legitimate use of cannabis as medicine faded away. As Dr. Bob says above, most of our health care professionals (as well as the public)are ignorant of the emerging science on the endocannabinoid system. I would like to invite families of autistic kids, their health care providers, and others to consider attending The Seventh National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics that will be held on April 26-28, 2012 at the Loews Ventana Canyon resort in Tucson. The theme is: The Endocannabinoid System: Clinical Implications for Health Care. This is an accredited conference co-sponsored by Patients Out of Time, the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and the University of Arizona College of Nursing and will bring an international faculty of cannabis researchers to present the latest research. As our featured researcher from Italy, Vincenzo Di Marzo says, the ECS helps us eat, sleep, relax, protect and forget. Cannabis is the medicine to use, when your ECS is overwhelmed or dysfunctional. Yes, we need more research, but only to learn how to use it more effectively. For more information about cannabis and the conference go to

  15. michael says:

    I strongly agree with making medical marijuana legal for autistic patients because I have autism spectrum and it allows me to realize the things i do wrong. Its UNBELIEVABLE but it takes time to figure everything out while using medical marijuana and im still working on it. So long story short it allows me to pick up on the “off” things that i do. And like i said its just the spectrum so its not full blown autism and im not sure that people with serious autism can figure themselves out sadly. Another reason is because it helps with obsessive compulsive disorder big time. And i also brings you into a good mood and want to munch out lol. And the biggest thing people should know is if your using it medically you must smoke VERY little at a time and every once in a while. So i do strongly agree with making medical marijuana legal for autistic patients

  16. Jane says:

    Medical cannabis aka marijuana is much safer than the commonly prescribed drugs for autism. Risperdal is linked to tongue tremors and rashes. Haldol can cause retrollis and induce an olygiric crisis. Thorazine and seroquel only sedate the brain and have numerous adverse side effects. All anti psychotics are toxic to the body and brain and serious acute and long term side effects. Most disturbing is research shows NOT one pharmaceutical drug has ever been proven to help autism. Yet, we are finding an increase of parents reporting medical marijuana is indeed helping children and adults with autism and serious behavioral issues. A lot of autistic individuals are in pain, don’t eat, are losing weight and are plagued with nxiety and insomina. Medical marijuana is proven to address all of these signs and symptoms and without the harsh side effects of conventional drugs. For God’s sakes people we are looking at an epidemic of children with autism. There is a disturbing increase in parent of autistic children killing their kids and/or themselves! They are suffering. Conventional medicine is an epic failure in autism. It’s time to start thinking about real treatment and hope for some of these autistic people. Medical cannabis is surely one of the most hopeful drugs out there and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It would be nice, however for drug companies to make a cannabis drug that is high in CBD’s so at least people wouldn’t have to go underground to get this drug for their children. It’s absurd that there is so much negative publicity about MMJ for autism when it’s clearly helping. Parents have a duty to protect their children. If their autistic children are suffering and a multitude of conventional drugs have repeatedly failed to help, then it is more than logical to offer medical cannabis.

  17. Andrew Ewers says:

    I have Aspergers, a kind of high functioning autism and have used marijuana for many years. It has been the only treatment capable of providing me with some normalcy in my everyday life. If you have a genetic history including mental and physical predispositions to any health issue commonly exacerbated by marijuana use than you shouldn’t use it. Conversely, if you do not have these health concerns and you feel there is some benefit to using marijuana as a treatment you should try it. As for children, unless there is some major health concern, such as the lady with a malnourished and violent child, marijuana isn’t an acceptable drug to treat any symptom as it can lead to many mental disorders. Once again though, the lady who SAVED HER SONS LIFE using MARIJUANA should be applauded, there is no harm in using a harmful drug or treatment to prevent death. Hospitals do it all the time, amputations, chemotherapy, and AIDS drug cocktails being prime examples. Pot just gets a bad rap because of William Randolph Hearst, don’t believe me than go look it up.

    “I will leave a mark on this world, and be damned if it’s only a grave!” ~ Me

  18. Gary Gagnon says:

    Andrew –

    I find it interesting that you state “If you have a genetic history including mental and physical predispositions to any health issue commonly exacerbated by marijuana use than you shouldn’t use it.”

    Do you not consider Aspergers a mental predisposition? Then you go on to say “As for children, unless there is some major health concern…” Wouldn’t ASD be a major health concern that people are possibly trying to treat w/ cannabis?

  19. Darcy says:

    My daughter is seven on the Autism Spectrum and I have tried many prescription medications and therapies to help improve her negative behaviors with little result. I would like to find out more information on using cannabis as a treatment plan for her.

    We live in Orange county, Ca and I would like to know what dr.’s to go to?

    Thank you!

  20. Juliann J. says:

    My son is 13, and was exhibiting extreme aggression that included hitting, biting self and others, and throwing furniture. People who don’t live with autism every day do not have a clue what you are going through, and it makes me sick to listen to their judgements on medications or poor parenting. After years of trying at least 6 different antipsychotics and one SSRI trial with little results, I read an article about using medical marijuana. Being a conservative person who had always voted NO to medical marijuana or any marijuana law, it was a huge step. But considering the situation we were in with property damage and personal injury, we decided to try it. We weaned him slowly (7 days) off the drugs and at the same time tried edible marijuana. Honestly, we got our life back. He went from 4-5 HUGE aggressive tantrums a day to 1 or 2 mild ones per month. The best part is seeing him happy. And actually happy – not high or stoned. When he had tantrums in the past the look on his face was so sad to see as a parent. He speaks very little, and you could just tell his level of frustration or pain was unbearable to him. Obviously all kids on the spectrum are different, but if your daughter is experiencing agressive behaviors, please try it. My husband took our son to a doctor in the Inland Empire, Dr. Goldstein (Riverside). He gave him the legal recommendation and a thorough explanation of different types of marijuana, and what he thought we should try. Orange County is a drive from Riverside, but if you don’t know where else to go, it could be the best hour you ever spent on the 91.

    Good luck!

  21. Hermann says:

    Medical cannabis for autistic people who have suffered, so long, with so little relief from conventional drugs, are entitled to try cannabis on the basis there is ample research to sustain cannabis elevates the 5Ht1 receptor of brain, which is commonly found to be dysfunctional in the brains of autistic children/adults. No, I”m not a pot advocate. Clearly, there will always be idiots who use one law to their advantage, as some people have with the legal marijuana laws. BUT, BUT< BUT that does NOT NOT NOT erase the fact there are millions of people, and it may be you reading this that needs it one day, that are living breathing testaments to the power of medical cannabis in healing cancer victims, people with Epilpesy (they must have a special straing high in CBDs), chronic insomina, anorexia, chronic depression, dementia (because dementia is rooted in a lack of acetylcholine and cannabis is RICH in acetyl-choline.

  22. Andrew Ewers says:

    I could be mistaken, but the way your comment is arranged it seems as though you have misunderstood my stance on treating autism spectrum disorders with medical marijuana. To be clear, I do believe Aspergers, high function autism and similar disorders are genetic predispositions passed down through family history and are expressed through physiological differences in brain sctructure which in turn causes mental/cognative differences But I never suggested they were exacerbated by marijuana. Also Aspergers is not a mental condition it is a developmental disorder which presents with mental symptoms. I support medical marijuana use for those it benefits but don’t think it should be the first treatment for children but as a last resort. In regard to ‘major health concern’ Aspergers and Autism by themselves are not health concerns but developmental concerns which might cause health concerns and considering that marijuana can have a negative impact on development should be used cautiously. Now I’ll oversimplify, marijuana shouldn’t be used as a cure all for all ages as a first line of defense but it should be allowed on the field of play. If you only read the text you excerpted from my comment without the rest of the sentence it is easy to take out of context. I don’t support giving pot to kids to treat an illness unless needed just as I doubt you’d support giving children OxyContin as an initial treatment for a migraine or Desoxyn for Narcolepsy though the option should be made available if necessary.

    And to Hermann
    Marijuana inhibits acetylcholine and Dementia is caused by inhibited acetylcholine. This is why marijuana negatively impacts short term memory. So marijuana would make a dementia patient worse and not better. Drugs that promote acetylcholine and typically stimulants of the amphetamine nature. Also my research has failed to yeild a source claiming that marijuana is rich in acetylcholine and actually suggests that because it has a low melting temp and short half life would be destroyed before bioavailability occurred. Either from an open flame or baked in an oven, though tea may work if it does in fact contain acetylcholine. If you have a source about this which can prove I’m incorrect I would like to read it.

  23. Dan says:

    Drugs like Galantamine are increasingly seen to help people with severe autism. Probably because those with severe autism are most deficient in choline, and Galantamine elevates acetylcholine in the brain.

  24. Michael says:

    Hi, I am an adult with high functioning ASD, and I personally find cannabis to be the only effective drug to treat the majority of my problematic, and very life restricting (socially and physically), symptoms and behaviours.

    I have had nearly 2 decades of being swapped from medication to medication, and I have only become ill off every single type. The majority of anti-depressants have made me go crazy, and often depressed. The antipsychotics have helped initially, but always resulted in negative side-effects and illness. And the benzodiazepines and sleeping tablets are seriously addictive and I build up an instant tolerance, needing to double the dose.

    The only real periods of stability I have maintained have been when I am having sensible amounts of cannabis, and nothing else, on a daily basis.

    I am unfortunately in the UK, where our laws have, surprisingly, not yet followed suit with more progressive parts of the world, even though this certainly does not match public opinion on the use of medical MJ in the UK. For this reason, I cannot be open about this being an effective treatment for me, and have no guidance on dosage and use of medical MJ, and I struggle to afford it, and don’t like breaking the law, and cant legally grow it either, so I live in a frustrating situation :(

    My overall opinion is that cannabis may be effective for many people with ASD related conditions, and it may be a far healthier alternative to prescription meds, but this is obviously based on the individual’s response. My biggest fear for people with lower functioning autism, or those who cannot communicate easily, cannot tell you how they feel after months of antipsychotic treatment, and if it was anything like me, then they were sedate, calmer, but felt dead inside and a different person. Cannabis has no LD, and is an easily managed natural resource, and although not suited to all, it doesn’t take 4-6+ weeks to know the drug is not beneficial, and treatment can be stopped far faster too.

    I hope we follow suit with the USA and Canada (and the rest) soon, it would make my life a lot more functional and stable than it has been for a long while :)



  25. Gina says:

    I feel whatever works DO IT. Who cares if others or the FDA doesn’t approve, they don’t know everything about your child and situation. You do!

  26. Excellent article. I absolutely appreciate this site.
    Stick with it!

  27. I do trust all the ideas you have offered to your post.
    They’re really convincing and can certainly work. Still,
    the posts are too brief for beginners. Could you please extend them a bit from
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