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 OK, 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 how to ride a bike — despite every expert telling us it would never happen.
I realize that some people may look askance at parents who keep pot in the house, let alone conduct semi-legal medical experiments on their children. But it’s time we reexamine the cultural and legal restrictions we put on cannabis, especially as it pertains to kids. My son’s life has changed because of it.
Since he was an infant, I’d watched my son struggle. At 18 months, he underwent two major spinal-cord tumor surgeries, only weeks apart, and was immobilized in a cast for a year. After that, the violent rages began — sometimes as many as 300 in a day.
My husband and I didn’t understand why he acted this way until he was diagnosed at age 3 with a gut disease that left him in pain for most of the day and severe autism that made it difficult for him to express himself or ask for relief.
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 study on 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.