Parents Treat Disabilities with Marijuana

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

Bill Laitner of the Livingston Daily discussed a growing treatment among parents of children with disabilities — marijuana.  Bill notes that under Michigan state law, medical marijuana is a legal treatment for seizure disorders, though the marijuana must be smoked.  However, parents weary of health risks related to smoking have bent the rules a bit.  Bill describes one family who gave their daughter doses of oil-infused marijuana to treat life-threatening seizures.  And it worked.  Bill notes “after years of seeing her suffer, the girl’s constant seizures all but disappeared.”

But parents are also pushing for the state to legalize marijuana for the treatment of autism.  The cases appear to be from parents whose children have particularly severe, often life-threatening, symptoms.  Bill described the case of the Zahringers, whose son was diagnosed with autism.  Their primary motivation for considering marijuana as a treatment relates to the high price tag of prescribed medications, coupled with disconcerting side effects such as the risk of stroke.

Opposition comes from several groups, according to Bill.  For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in cooperation with the nonprofit group Safe Alternatives to Marijuana, are pushing for lengthy clinical trials to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of marijuana on disorders, using the same vetting process of most other drugs.

The Autism Society also opposes medical marijuana.  The executive chairman of the Society, Jim Ball, was quoted as saying “at this time, we don’t support medical marijuana because right now the research basis is just not there.”  Instead, he recommends Applied Behavior Analysis as the “standard of care” for autism treatment.

Though hearings to expand the Michigan law are scheduled, previous efforts have failed.

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns and  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at

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1 Comment

  1. For parents who are desperately trying to get ABA for their child (we are going on 18 months of trying to access ABA from an outside provider). Being the 24/7 behavior analyst for your child because there is nothing you can access can easily open you up to ‘alternative’ options such as medical marijuana.

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