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Smoking Marijuana with my Autistic Adult Son

A carefully controlled dose of cannabis was wonderful for my autistic son.

Key points

  • The science of medicine for autism symptoms is not at all exact.
  • We need far more research into the beneficial uses of cannabis for autism symptoms like severe anxiety.
  • My adult autistic son can decide for himself about whether cannabis helps him relax and enjoy himself.

When my son Nat was around 8 months old, we shared an apple. At first, I cut it and let him bite it, but to my horror, he choked a little on it. But he still wanted it. So I chewed up the next slice and gave him the spit-out apple, and that worked really well. The feeling of being able to share a snack with my little son was for me, a new mother, transformative. Now I had a glimpse of the future, of simply hanging out with him, eating the same favorite foods rather than always feeding him baby food. It was possibly one of the first times I felt a new closeness to him, like a little buddy rather than an infant.

This image came to me a few months ago, the night we got high together. That event was the culmination of three+ years of cannabis research I'd undertaken, in the quest for an anti-anxiety medication that would actually work. Nat has phases of excruciating anxiety that lead him to injure himself and sometimes, though rarely, others. He is 31 and he has been through many behavioral strategies as well as physical examinations all to determine that yes, this is about anxiety and nothing else.

Psychopharmacology can only go so far. Just about every form of medication ever prescribed for Nat brought uncertainty, trial and a lot of error, and paradoxical effects—with a few wonderful exceptions. The science of medicine for autism symptoms is not at all an exact science. The same can be said for using cannabis for autism symptoms like anxiety. There is simply not enough known—certainly not in the typical doctor's office—about uses, doses, ingestion methods, and strains of marijuana to make for easy, fairly predictable trials.

At our wit's end, it seemed to me that we might as well give cannabis a try, given all the positive anecdotal excitement going around the autism community. I got Nat a medical card and we tried sublingual CBD oil and edibles with no clear success. I gave up on the whole thing, and thankfully we did stumble upon an effective medication for his severe self-aggression.

Then the pandemic struck and Nat came home to live with us. Even though having anxiety is Nat's baseline way of being, he seemed to be in great shape in terms of volatility, and to our surprise, we settled into a routine with him that felt comfortable and fairly easy.

Everything else about the pandemic has been hard for me. My anxiety levels were nearly unmanageable since COVID-19 wreaked its havoc throughout the world. I really believe cannabis—which is legal recreationally and medically in my state—has kept me alive during this time.

Nat is by now very familiar with seeing me smoke weed. I don't use edible or vapes; I prefer smoking marijuana because the effects are immediate. And I actually like the unevenness of delivery in smoking weed, unlike the consistent, predictable high offered by edibles or vapes. He seemed fascinated watching me light up.

So one winter night, even though he was perfectly content, I decided, why not offer some to him? He's an adult, after all. And with a psychological profile like mine. I asked, “Do you want to try this?” and he said “Yes,” right away. But Nat often answers "yes" as a default because expressive language is a real challenge for him. So I asked a few more times, restructuring the question to be certain that he was doing this of his own free will. In every which way, Nat gave me a definite "yes."

First try, he blew into the bong and the weed flew out. Expensive, but also funny, so I laughed and then coached him a bit on inhaling. "Drink it in. In, like a straw. In." I pantomimed "in." Then I showed him what blowing out is: whoosh whoosh. "Don’t blow out." Then I showed him "in" a few more times. I gave the bong back to him and repeated it again. This may sound ridiculous but the repetition is what he needs to make the right connections.

Finally, he drew the vapor in and coughed. He did it! I took it back and showed him me doing it. I offered it again, but with the chance to choose "no." He had a couple more partial successes. Then it was time to sit back and experience the high. I watched him carefully. He was sitting on the couch staring. Suddenly I saw his feet and his hands wiggling a little, and he smiled. I smiled, too. It was feeling very good at this point.

I grabbed my laptop and sat next to him. I opened Netflix and queued up a baking show. Nat and I bake together every day since the pandemic started, and I thought that this might something to connect over. "Whoa, look," I said, "They're separating eggs! You just did that, remember?" He did not respond, but most of the time he doesn't. But I felt like he was watching it and enjoying it. I threw a warm afghan over us and we just sunk right into the experience—the softening effects of the weed, the delicious silly excitement of the show, and above all, our sweet, miraculous closeness that he did not seem to mind.

I was so happy I felt like laughing. We had connected in a new way, old mom and adult son, together. As always, I don't know for sure what it all was like for him, what parts he understood, what connections he made, and especially, what he enjoyed about it. He hasn't accepted weed since then, though, but that's okay. Because that night was so special. Just like sharing that apple so long ago; it was maybe the first time I ever saw Nat as someone I was happily hanging out with, and nurturing him in my own unique odd way.

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