How Backyard Pot Farming Is Helping Kids With Autism

Article by Jessica Wright, The Atlantic


Karlee lives in a quiet town in southeastern Washington. Last year, she put in a new cedar fence around her home. The fence is 6 feet tall, and behind it Karlee grows tomatoes, zucchini, and marijuana. As it matures, the sweet smell of pot starts to waft into the neighborhood. This is Karlee’s cue that it’s time to pick the leaves and have them processed into oils. She gives these to her 13-year-old son, who has autism. (Karlee requested that her last name not be used, to protect her son’s privacy.)

Spencer, her boy, was having increasingly aggressive tantrums, and was becoming harder to control. By the age of 11, he was lashing out with “run-by slappings” of his sisters, and threatening to take his own life and his parents’. Terrified that his aggression might force the family to consider other housing options, Karlee turned to marijuana two years ago, cast as a miracle cure in an internet success story she had read. She suspected the story was “baloney,” but she was desperate. She soon became a believer: A twice-daily dose of marijuana dramatically alleviated Spencer’s anxiety within a week. He stopped hitting his sisters and, earlier this year, shocked his mother by asking to attend a middle-school dance. Karlee watched in the corner, crying, as he danced for the first time with a girl.

Meanwhile, neurologist Gregory Barnes keeps his marijuana derivative inside a lockbox, stored inside a biometric safe, inside a locked pharmacy. This year, Barnes plans to start the first clinical trial to test the effect of cannabidivarin (CBDV) on children who have both autism and epilepsy. (CBDV is one of marijuana’s many active ingredients.) In the nearly two years Barnes has been trying to get his trial off the ground, agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have paid two visits to inspect his facility—and he’s expecting a third.

Medical marijuana is legal in many states, including Washington, but the federal government still bans its use. The DEA ranks all compounds extracted from marijuana as Schedule 1 drugs—meaning they have “no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.” CBDV and the closely related cannabidiol (CBD) do not produce the high associated with marijuana. Still, their Schedule 1 status put them in the same league as heroin and LSD, a more dangerous one than cocaine or oxycodone.

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