Aspergers Adults and Self-Medication


My son is 22 and self medicates with marijuana, he has tried prescription medication but doesn’t like the side effects. He is living at home at the moment (has had a few attempts at living away from home). How do I handle this? He says he wants to give up, but will do it his way and wants no involvement from me. However, I cop the brunt of his rage when he hasn’t had his marijuana. Would appreciate any advice…


Self-medication is the use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol in an attempt to relieve physical and/or emotional problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, emotional pain, bipolar disorder, Aspergers, etc.). Self-medication is a temporary fix, because it treats the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. When young adults with Aspergers use drugs other than those that health-care providers prescribe, the underlying problem goes untreated – and possibly worsens! Unfortunately, self-medicating is often nothing more than short term gain WITH long term pain.

Cannabis is the second most common drug used to medicate unwanted symptoms associated with the Aspergers condition, for example:

• anger management problems
• controlling feelings such as depression, fear or anxiety
• high intelligence, and sometimes too smart for their own good
• inability to listen to others
• inability to think in abstract ways
• inflexible thinking; lack of empathy
• lack of managing appropriate social conduct
• repetitive routines provides feelings of security
• specialized fields of interest
• stress when their routine suddenly changes
• visual thinking

Having said this, we should consider the research on “marijuana use” rather than simply offering opinions about the pros and cons.

THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, increases serotonin when smoked in low doses (similar to SSRI antidepressant, such as Prozac). But at higher doses, the effect reverses itself and can actually worsen depression and other psychiatric conditions. Researchers have observed an antidepressant effect of cannabinoids and an increased activity in the neurons that produce serotonin. However, increasing the cannabinoid dose beyond a set point (which is difficult to determine) completely undoes the benefits.

The antidepressant and intoxicating effects of cannabis are due to its chemical similarity to natural substances in the brain known as "endo-cannabinoids," which are released under conditions of high stress or pain. They interact with the brain through structures called cannabinoid CB1 receptors. Studies demonstrate that these receptors have a direct effect on the cells producing serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates the mood. However, since controlling the dosage of natural cannabis is difficult (particularly when it is smoked in the form of marijuana joints), using it directly as an antidepressant is very risky. And in most cases, the well-meaning cannabis ‘user’ slips into the ‘abuser’ over time (since this drug is addictive), thus crossing the line into ‘depression-aggravation’ rather than ‘depression-alleviation’.

We’ve talked about depression so far, but it should be noted that the same holds true for anxiety. Small doses of cannabis alleviate anxiety (temporarily), but exacerbate feelings of anxiety in larger doses. In addition, the same holds true for other illegal drugs (e.g., the use of cocaine would be a temporary “fix” at best, only to worsen symptoms in the long run).

Another complicating factor for young Aspergers adults who use/abuse cannabis is a little known phenomenon called “amotivational syndrome.” This presumed psychological condition is believed to be a direct result of regular cannabis abuse and leaves those affected with a reduction in (a) motivation and (b) capacity for the usual activities required for achievement and success in today's world. Some young adult ‘Aspies’ are, by default, slightly-to-mostly “unmotivated” to take on adult-like responsibilities anyway. Thus, when “amotivational syndrome” is added to the mix via marijuana abuse, the adult’s eventual independence and self-reliance is even more compromised.

It is possible for an experienced marijuana smoker to titrate and regulate the dose to obtain the desired acute effects, and at the same time, minimize undesired effects. Thus, the question becomes: “Do the advantages of self-medication with marijuana outweigh the disadvantages?” Clearly this is personal question that only the pot smoker can answer himself or herself.

It should be noted that smoked marijuana is not a medicine since it has failed to pass the scientific trials needed for it to go to market. As a result, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance as defined by the Controlled Substances Act. Therefore, abusers run the risk of legal problems in addition to emotion and health problems.

What can parents do (assuming they want to be proactive about stopping drug abuse)?

First, educate yourselves completely about drugs and drug abuse.

If your son's drug use has been purely recreational, you may only need to clearly state your position regarding abstinence and then closely monitor his behavior. If your son is more deeply into substance abuse, seek the advice of a behavioral health or substance abuse professional.

Don't show any emotions of anger or fear, and don't lose your good poker face -- but do send a strong message that drug and alcohol use is not acceptable. Don't lecture, be clear, and keep your message short and to the point.

Restrict or eliminate use of the car, take away cell phones, etc., until your son is committed to being "clean and sober."

Find out where your son is getting the money to purchase drugs (e.g., your ATM card, wallet, money you give for an allowance, lunches, gas, etc.). Don't be surprised if you find he is stealing from you or others to finance his drug use.

Purchase urine-screen kits to use at home and test your son randomly. If he refuses the screens, tell him the following: "If you choose to use drugs, you'll choose the consequence – you will have to live elsewhere."

If your son continues to use drugs, follow through with this consequence.

This sounds like tough love – because it is. Understand this very clearly: If you are allowing your son to use illegal substances in your home – or if you are using your money to purchase the drugs for him, YOU run the risk of legal ramifications as well. Explain this to your son by saying, “You’re not the only one who could get into trouble with the law if you get busted with pot– it could affect me too!”

Launching Adult Children With Aspergers: How To Promote Self-Reliance


tammy modlin said...

Another prob w self medicating w weed is the Q, is there also alcohol involved. Often ppl who use weed as med also drink moderately to severe. Alcohol is a deppressant. Become an educated person abt what he is using in total & talk to him abt it frm his perspective. See his side but be objective. Becomming dependent is no answer & neither is lung problems. Get support & advice by going on Facebook & searching for Aspergers in "search" or in "causes". U & he can make friens, connections, join groups, "like" aspergers pages... Ur & his neews feed will gv u hope, answers, & support. I am Tammy Modlin on fb. :)

Anonymous said...

i have aspergers and recently stopped smoking pot. Its not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Every human being has 3 bodies. The physical body, the emotional/mind body, and the spiritual body. Aspergers effects the mind/emotional body. Therefore, 2 of the 3 bodies are not effected by this disorder. Many Aspies go on living thinking that they are doomed and that something is terribly wrong with them when in truth, they are just different. They are human beings living on this planet to teach us something. That they are to be accepted and loved unconditionally AS IS. This means not trying to change them to fit into social norms. Aspies need empowered. They need to understand that there are MANY others on this planet JUST LIKE THEM and they need to unite to feel understood by each other. The physical body and the spiritual body are just like everyone elses. They are NOT their mind. If you sit in silence for a moment, you can observe your mind and the random thoughts that pop up. If you can observe these thoughts, then YOU ARE NOT THAT MIND. Aspies need to understand that. It's very important. They are not damaged goods. They are just different.

As far as marijuana use is concerned. Marijuana has been used for spiritual purposes for thousands of years. It has a stigma in the US because it's illegal. There are many countries in this world where it is not. Marijuana gets you "high". The meaning of getting "high" is your mind is able to lift out of its current level of consciousness to a higher level of consciousness. Marijuana is a TEACHER plant. When you are high you are able to think up and out of where your current mind has you held hostage. The trick is to remember your thoughts and what you learn when you are high and apply them to your everyday life. It should be used as a addition to a regular meditation and yoga practice.

The chemical medications prescribed by doctors are all extremely dangerous and can cause dependency. Marijuana is a natural substance. If an Aspie is self medicating with marijuana don't be concerned, it is just what their minds need. The plant is here for a reason, just like everything else in nature.

Adam said...

There are a few things i would like to add to the topic as an aspie who self-medicates.
1.) i think as a group we do not trust the pharmaceutical industry. the substances have numerous side affects, seem less effective than marijuana, and those producing these drugs have the hidden agenda of profit.
2.) Marijuana in many ways has saved my life, I have had periods in my life of extreme stress, anxiety, and depression in which marijuana was able to slow the processes of my mind to a normal level.
3.) A-motivational syndrome definitely has some validity, but what if I am happier as an underachiever. Why is the quality of life only measured by the level of achievement or activity of an individual. I've always felt that its up to evry individual to lead the happiest life possible. Monks in tibet achieve very little yet are praised in their society, maybe our societal values are junk, we seem to place possessions over people.
* However, I do realize that a number of people with aspergers may want to be successful and the substance causing a lack of success may be damaging to that individual.

Anonymous said...

We are the grandparents of an Aspergers 17 year old garndson who has just come to live with us as his parents have been having issues with smoking maruihana and staying out til all hours with an unsavoury group of friends, his has been having counselling but has failed to come home for the last couple of sessions. He has also had issues with getting along with his step father and younger siblings. He is currently doing an apprenticship as a roof tiler which he seems to enjoy and has a good working relationship with his boss but we are worried that will change if the drugs become more of an issue.He says the drug makes him feel normal.

Doc said...

I remember about 30 years ago I smoked 420 in college .... Until I smoked some unknowingly that had been geeked with LSD.
I began having vivid visual and auditory hallucinations...all I could do was just hold on
and this went on for about 12 hours. I guess that is what they called a bad trip. I went on into law enforcement and never used 420.
I spoke with several narcotics agents about my experience and if it was just some really powerful bud that caused the bad trip. I also talked with a few heads. Everyone said LSD or
PCP...I also remember being boxed in. In 2000 I was in a bad on the job car accident.
Several years later I had to have three joint replacements. I was out on disability then.
I went to a pain clinic in 2005 and was put on morphine and percocet. This only helped for a few months and I tapered off of it a year later. In 2009 I had my third total joint replacement. I started back with the pain clinic due to the pain. I decided to give 420 another try and it helped with the pain tremendously. I did not have that bad experience like I had in college. I could only use 420 a couple of days a month due to the possibilty of getting screened by the pain clinic. I only recently tapered off the pain meds.
I believe 420 use and sales stimulate the economy. That is why it is kept illegal. If you legalize and regulate and tax a vice you kill the
value. Just like what happened with alcohol prohibition. Cartels and gangs regulate 420 now. Ive seen it at all angles. I have Aspergers, bipd, and aadd. I have always had
a feeling of being different and prefer one on one conversations\interactions. I am not using 420 right now. I was born on 4/20 and am a 24 year law enforcement veteran.

Unknown said...

The pot out there is more potent then a recreation use. Many are getting addicted to the high. There are all kinds of bad chemicals added and it still is the gateway drug as I don't know many (very few) who haven't tried stronger drugs. There are four major issues. In most states, it's illegal and it will cost you thousands in attorney fees. It's expensive and there for they get codependent with their addiction and many more are becoming addicted due to the high / potency. They are dealing with sketchy people to get their drugs and could be spending $280-$380 real dollars a month. How does one pay rent? Food bills go up with munchies / basically they can't afford this drug. lol The depression and real world gets harder to deal with without being numb and they get extremely moody and depressed without it. Never mind if they smoke it and the cancer they will suffer with earlier on in life and I don't think suffering more is part of their long term plan. They usually need counseling and replacement skills (to take the place of when and who they smoked with) a whole new set of friends (which is extremely hard for them) so getting busy with a sport/running or new hobbie helps but it will be hard. In the long run worth it and you can live independently. NO one is supporting your habit and that doesn't mean go out and steal. That means get another job and keep busy.

Educateyourself said...

Interesting perspective. I live in Washington state where it's legal. They shop that sell medical marijuana also sells recreational, it's one in the same. It very well could be like that where you are from but not so much here. I know people that use it moderately to control a variety of illnesses. It's has less side affects that most medications. There is several ways to take it and several varieties some of which do not even cause the munchies or a high. Marijuana would only cost approximately $20 to replace 4 medications that would cost about $400. What it comes down to is proper use.

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