Our marijuana policy stupidity

Great essay in the Post from Marie Myung-Ok Lee who writes of the wonderful benefits marijuana provides for her son’s severe autism– and the absurd difficulty of obtaining it for medical use in New York (and many other states).  The idea that this drug is still Schedule I is so, so appalling.  From the essay:

It took me awhile to perfect the cookie recipe. I experimented with ingredients: Blueberry, Strawberry, Sour Diesel, White Widow, Bubba Kush, AK-47 — all strains of cannabis, which I stored, mixed with glycerin, in meticulously labeled jars on a kitchen shelf. After the cookies finished baking, I’d taste a few crumbs and annotate the effects in a notebook. Often, I felt woozy. One variation put me to sleep. When I had convinced myself that a batch was okay, I’d give a cookie to my 9-year-old son.

At the time he was consumed by violent rages. He would bang his head, scream for hours and literally eat his shirts. At dinnertime, he threw his plates so forcefully that there was food stuck on the ceiling. He would punch and scratch himself and others, such that people would look at the red streaks on our bodies and ask us, gingerly, if we had cats.

But when I got the cookies right, he calmed down. His aggressions became less ferocious and less frequent. Mealtimes became less fraught. He was able to maintain enough self-composure that he even learned to ride a bike — despite every expert telling us it would never happen…

We tried all kinds of treatments, including applied behavior analysis (the supposed gold standard in autism therapy), occupational therapy, horse therapy and auditory integration. We even got him a session with Soma Mukhopadhyay, a celebrity in the autism world, whose Rapid Prompting Method has helped some people learn how to communicate by pointing instead of vocalizing. By the time he was 5, our son was in a special school and on a hypoallergenic diet. His gastroenterologist prescribed powerful anti-inflammatories, which left him vulnerable to violent episodes triggered by, say, hearing a dog bark 100 feet away, but stopped the worst head-banging: on our cast-iron tub…

Then, a couple of years later, the medication stopped working. And his aggressions exploded.

His school insisted he see a psychiatrist, who recommended the drug Risperdal to treat his “autistic irritability.” I was reluctant. Adults taking Risperdal often refer to it as a “chemical lobotomy.” In kids, there are also reports of alarming weight gain and sleepiness. Additionally, back then I could find only one studyon the medication’s use in children with autism. It tracked 49 children who took the drug for eight weeks to six months — hardly long term — and showed uneven results on behavior, with side effects including an average weight gain of six pounds in the eight-week period, elevated insulin levels and tremors. My husband said he’d rather our son attack us every day than suffer through that. But the school was calling us weekly, demanding that something change.

I was desperate and frantic. It seemed like we’d run out of options. Then I happened upon a paragraph in Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire.” Pollan argued that cannabis is great for pain relief and can slow short-term memory formation. Might this, I wondered, help mitigate my son’s pain and the onslaught of sensory input that he struggled to process? …

For my son, not every strain of cannabis helped. When we did see positive effects, they were often accompanied by red eyes or an unwillingness to do anything (“couch lock,” it’s casually called). But eventually, we settled on White Russian, a favorite of cancer patients in pain, and we transitioned from cookies to an oil tincture that my son received orally every few hours with a dropper. (That allowed us to titrate the dosage and made it easier for the nurse to administer at school.) It left him clear-eyed and alert, without the constant pain-furrow in his brow or the off-the-wall rages.

It seemed like a miracle. And seven years later, it’s still working. But unlike with other wonder drugs, we can’t just pop into the pharmacy for refills.

Lee goes onto detail the incredible difficulty of obtaining the medicine her son so clearly benefits from.  Now, you know me, I like science and data over anecdotes.  But when we are talking about people’s lives, you sure want to at least let them try a substance that plenty of evidence– if not yet scientifically conclusive– will help.  It’s so hard to get decent studies with marijuana, though, because it is schedule I.  And it is hard to deny that the preponderance of evidence suggests that it really does help with certain medical conditions.  It may not be the panacea that some chalk it up to being, but it is insane that it so much more regulated than the literally poisonous alcohol or the literally destructive cocaine and opioids.

Oh, for some sanity here.  And, yes, it is an absurd, absurd waste of our criminal justice resources that this is illegal, but it is also an absurd, absurd shame that many people suffer who’d conditions could likely be alleviated by marijuana.

And, honestly, all the more upsetting when you realize the whole reason marijuana was criminalized in the first place was due to racism.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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