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My autistic son’s cannabis use changed my liberal view of legalization

Our son, 25, has Type 1 Autism, ADHD, and Cannabis Use Disorder (a fancy name for what we used to call being an addict). He – and we – feel like we’ve been left behind by the mental health systems that are supposed to help him. Last fall, he found himself homeless when, for his own protection (we were told), he was turned away from psychiatric emergency rooms where other psychotic patients might have harmed him by passing him for a thin, “effeminate” homosexual with communication difficulties caused by his autism.

He received a “diagnostic impression” (not a diagnosis) of bipolar disorder after months of treatment with various medications. The most used to treat bipolar had no effect on his mood or behavior. Six months later, it appears that it was cannabis, which he had consumed in unknown quantities, that caused his manic episodes. Now that cannabis is legal in the New York metropolitan area, our son’s problem has gotten worse.

We’ve tried to provide guidance and limits on edibles and vaping, but it’s hard to do when the law doesn’t care. He likes the feeling of being high. This helps him forget his problems. But because he requires professional management of his medications, the unrestricted access to cannabis, combined with his lack of self-awareness and judgment, has created a chaotic pinball game as he bounces around the facilities while we searched for solutions, waiting weeks for answers. Even long after the COVID shortage of disability supports ended, we were infuriatingly told, “Sorry for the late response; we are short of staff. »

A man prepares a marijuana cigarette in Washington Square Park on April 20 in New York.
Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress

Two loving parents united in this gray area between disability rights and mental health care for our son is not enough. There are only two of us and he is not our only child. We are seriously lacking in time and patience. This becomes impossible when disability support services and mental health care resources turn a blind eye and deaf ear.

And then legal cannabis appears.

Neurodiversity, depression and psychoactive substances do not mix. A neurologist undertook a study of our son’s brain which showed cognitive decline – at age 25! Then the psychiatrist asked our son, “So, do you like your brain?” Do you want it to work properly?

“Yeah…but I like getting high,” my son replied.

Despite all the medical advice, a year of treatment and proof of the harmful effects of cannabis, he admits that he would choose to get high.

Our son’s Medicaid coverage offers talk therapy, but the wait for a therapist is four to six months. A housing voucher from the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities, plus federal Supplemental Security Income, is not enough for him to live on. Yet he remains unemployed because he believes it is now his right to choose where and when to get high. This attitude and his intention to let his cannabis use disorder rule his life will surely lead to long-term psychiatric and health problems, keeping him unemployable.

For now, we, his parents, are still his guardians and he is receiving treatment with a talking therapist through our private health insurance. The co-pays increase week by week, and our son is nodding yes to the therapist while still harboring a desire (which he freely admits to me) to return to treating his own despair and insomnia with vaping and candy gelled. Our son knows that a return to vaping violates the rules of his lease, and using cannabis defies all advice given to him by medical and behavioral health providers. It does not matter.

Even though I have seen my son suffer so much and be so misunderstood, I am still a left-wing Democratic voter. But I am no longer in favor of legalizing cannabis. I think of other parents whose adult children have been incarcerated on marijuana charges. Social justice for them is meager, but ironically New York State gives preference to ex-offenders by opening cannabis dispensaries as reparations and, like New Jersey, collects sales tax for its coffers. As a former public school teacher, I would like to see additional funding go to public schools to create stronger academic support for all school children. It is this idea of ​​equality that has guided much of my thinking and voting for decades.

Meanwhile, autistic adults, who are actually extremely naive, depressed and underemployed/unemployed, become addicted to this addictive drug, spending the money they don’t have to buy more products to cannabis and cause distress to their families and themselves.

It’s upsetting that the idea of ​​democratizing and destigmatizing recreational weed, which I once supported, has backfired on families like mine, whose plates were already full.

Nicoletta LaMarca Sacco (she/her) is a disability activist, daughter, wife and mother. A writer, doctoral student and Rotarian, she focuses on social justice issues. She lives in the Catskills with her husband and two dogs.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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