Sam’s Story: Using Medical Cannabis to Treat Autism Spectrum Disorder

The following in an excerpt from an article written by Sam’s father, found here.

Sam is an eight-year-old male. He was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delay- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) when he was two and one-half years old by a pediatric psychiatrist at the M.I.N.D. Institute, UC Davis Medical Center. He was re-diagnosed at the M.I.N.D. Institute in October of 2007 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As the psychiatrist told Sam’s mom and I, “Sam is a poster child for ASD”. Sam has lowered cognitive abilities and lowered verbal skills. Sam lives with his mom, dad and his younger sister who is six years of age. She is a typical child with no physical or mental health issues.

Sam was adopted at birth. He had no prenatal issues and was a healthy infant. At around 18 months of age he began exhibiting ASD like behaviors and after six months of reassurances by his primary doctors that he was fine Sam was diagnosed with ASD. Since his diagnoses he has received special education services, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy. He had been on the Gluten-Casein Free Diet (GCFD). He has been treated by a doctor (supposedly one of the best in the country) who treats ASD patients following the Defeat Autism Now (DAN) protocol which emphasizes a “BioMedical” approach established by Dr. Rimland the founder of Autism Society of America and the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, CA.

As a family we have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to help Sam. Even though as a teacher I have full coverage insurance, many of the services and doctors Sam has seen are not covered under my plan. Blue Cross of California still categorizes ASD as a “mental illness” instead of an “organic disorder” which precludes it from receiving the coverage a typical physical illness would be granted. I only mention this because since Sam was diagnosed with ASD we have devoted ourselves to helping him. This devotion has been in the forms of time, effort, education, therapy cost, medical costs, conferences, parent support groups, and most importantly love.

January 20th, 2008

Since the MC trial began, Sam has not had one act of hitting, kicking or threatening to hit. This includes school and home. SAM HASN’T GONE THIS LONG WITHOUT AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIORS IN YEARS. Additionally, the following improvements have occurred. I have classified these behavioral improvements into the three categories; Reduced Behaviors, Significant Improvements, and Mild Improvements.

Reduced Behaviors

  • Reduced aggression
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced mood swings
  • Reduced crying for no reason
  • Reduced negative self talk
  • Reduced obsessive/compulsive behavior
  • Reduced non compliance
  • Reduced running off and escape behaviors

Significant Improvements

  • Improved attitude and happier. Shares happiness with others appropriately. (Before the MC trial, the only time Sam laughed was when others were angry, crying or hurt)
  • Increased flexibility to changes in routine or plans
  • Quicker transition from being upset to being OK
  • Improved affection to others
  • Improved concentration and on task behavior at school
  • Improved physical well-being. Far less complaining of stomachaches (probably because of being off other prescriptions) and more typical diet (the pharmaceuticals either made him habitually starving (Respirdol and Abilify) not hungry at all (Adderall, Ritalin) or caused him to have stomach irritation (Paxil, and Celexa). As I’ve stated, we feel much better about giving Sam MC that we did giving him the pharmaceuticals.

Mild Improvements

  • Improved language (receptive and expressive)
  • Reduced self stimulation with finger play and fingers to mouth
  • Reduced hyperactivity
  • Increased ability to learn new information
  • Improved sociability with peers


Sam’s life has improved dramatically since he began using medical cannabis to treat his Autism Spectrum Disorder. Because Sam is doing better, we are all doing better. We have our life’s back again. We still have an autistic son who faces many challenges but our lives have improved immeasurably. We can take Sam out to dinner, go shopping, visit friends, plan vacations, take him to visit his Grandparents, laugh as a family, and not be constantly worried that he is going to hurt our daughter or himself. In other words, we can live without being consumed by Sam’s autism. Most importantly, SAM IS HAPPIER AND HEALTHIER.

We are going to continue to treat our son with Medical Cannabis. No one ever questioned us when we gave Sam all the other medications that never helped him, and in my opinion, caused him to harm. Medical Cannabis is natural and non-toxic. The only side effects we have observed so far are glassy and reddened eyes and an occasionally a slight drowsiness. When he wakes each morning up he is alert and happy. He has not built up a tolerance to the medication. We skip doses whenever we can. With the other prescriptions we were instructed to never miss a dose or it could disrupt the medication’s effectiveness.

Medical Cannabis may not help every child with ASD like it is helping Sam but I think it should be an options for parents when considering medication. Controlled studies measuring the effectiveness of MC in the treatment of children with ASD should be conducted. More user-friendly, reliable forms of MC need to be made available to patients (inhaler, pill, liquid forms). Unfortunately, other parents and who have treated their child with MC are afraid to disclose their experiences because of possible legal retribution.

Parents need the guidance and support of a physician before trying Medical Cannabis on their own. I recommend that there be a working relationship between the MC Doctor and the child’s primary physician. The primary physician at least needs to know you are going to try MC. Our MC Doctor contacted our primary physician and without revealing the Sam’s identity asked him how he would feel about treatment with MC. Our MC Doctor felt this was the professionally appropriate thing to do and I agree with him. Sam’s school does not know he is treated with MC and we don’t feel they need to know. We have been very selective in who we share information with.

It is difficult for parents of typical children to understand what it is like to be the parent of a child with ASD. I have worked with Special Needs Children for over 18 years as a Special education teacher in public schools (RSP and SDC). I have a Masters in Education with a Special Education emphasis. Yet with all this experience, I had no idea how consuming and life altering having an Autistic son would turn out to be. We know there are other parents out there who are facing the same challenges we face and like us, would do whatever they could to help their child. When I went to research this topic a story like this would have been useful. I hope Sam’s Story might be helpful and informative to other parents who are considering treating their child with MC.

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