"You find a drug dealer and you ask him," one mother told Liz Lewis, writing for Narratively. "And he'll ask somebody who knows somebody, and then you can get oils and extracts."
When people refer to marijuana being a gateway drug, they usually mean that young adults may try marijuana, and once they do, that will lead them to experiment with more dangerous illicit substances. But in the cases of mothers of autistic children, turning to CBD and THC oils to alleviate their kids' worst symptoms led instead to creating the kind of systemic and secretive drug distribution networks we'd usually associate with notorious drug kingpins than with suburban moms.
So, how did they get to this state?
Can We Cannabidiol?
As you're probably aware, marijuana laws differ from state to state. And state laws often conflict with a remaining blanket federal ban on marijuana. And while hemp is now legal under federal law, not all cannabidiol extracts from hemp are. (Note: cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive extract, as opposed to THC, which does have psychoactive effects.) On top of this confusing quilt of state and federal law, you also have varying degrees of legalized medical marijuana, which range from allowing prescription holders to grow their own plants, to limiting patients to CBD-only treatments and only for specific epilepsy-related disorders. So even if a state allows medical marijuana, autism is generally not a medical condition that permits its legal use. (Autism is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in just seven states.)
So these mothers, despite their best intentions, know that their actions may be illegal and that people have been and remain incarcerated for possessing or selling what is now a legal substance in many states. "In most states, their activities are illicit, if not outright illegal, and their tendency toward public activism puts them at an increased risk of being caught and prosecuted," Lewis notes. "These women are rich and poor, conservative and liberal, united by their fearlessness in the face of the law -- and their willingness to do anything to help their children."
CBD, THC, TBD
So, what about that slippery slope from concerned mother to cannabis trafficker? "As long as you're not mailing 'flower,' as they like to call it -- if you’re mailing oil or edibles -- it's really so simple," another mom explained. "You just send it in the mail."
She keeps most of each shipment of oils for herself, but she gives some to friends in similar circumstances -- becoming what the law would call a drug dealer. She does not share the product with strangers. If a parent reaches out to her, she will give advice about how to purchase medical cannabis in another state but will offer no help beyond that. These tightly guarded networks have formed across the country, and despite their secrecy, it has never been easier for people to obtain medical marijuana for their own family's use.
"They do not view medical marijuana as a cure for autism," Lewis is careful to point out, "but rather as a safe way to reduce challenging or even dangerous behaviors. In disability language, it is more of an accommodation than a treatment -- a tool to enable their kids to live fuller lives."
Still, CBD and THC extracts are not a remedy for every autistic child, and what these mothers are engaged in is illegal. So neither this post nor Lewis's article should be read as medical advice to microdose your child or legal advice to start up a cross-country drug ring. They are both better understood as an observation that our country's changing -- and often conflicting -- cannabis regulations can put parents in some difficult situations, and put some people in jail while others are put on the covers of magazines.