Over at Salon, Matthew Rozsa interviewed John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado, about why the fuck he vetoed medical cannabis for autism. I think Rozsa was way too nice about the whole thing:
The challenge, when discussing a subject as sensitive as medical marijuana use, is respecting the personal experiences of those whose positions may run counter to one’s own.
This brings me to a discussion I had on the issue several weeks ago with Gov. John Hickenlooper, the chief executive of Colorado who last month vetoed a bill that continues to prohibit medical marijuana for children with autism. As an autistic person myself who has benefited from using this substance (albeit — and this is a crucial distinction — as an adult), I decided to open up with Hickenlooper about my experiences in the hope that it would challenge his point-of-view. To his credit, he welcomed the opportunity to have that conversation and was willing to be equally open about his own reasons for feeling as he does about marijuana and autism.
“Respecting other people’s experience” sounds nice. But when you’re autistic, you have to fight to be taken seriously speaking about your own experience. If my ability to draw correct conclusions from experience is suspect, I don’t see why we should give Hickenlooper the benefit of the doubt.
And I don’t think we should be apologetic that drugs are good. Mushrooms changed the whole course of my life for the better, at age 16. Cannabis came a year later. I was given nitrous oxide multiple times at the dentist’s office, starting some time in elementary school.
Yes, children’s brains are still developing, but the concept of “early intervention” should be controversial if there was really a taboo on influencing the course of plasticity. Even cannabis in utero isn’t that bad, so can we please stop with “won’t somebody please think of the children?” Seriously, it’s not that bad:
The neurodevelopmental data in humans and animals suggest that prenatal exposure to THC may lead to subtle, persistent changes in targeted aspects of higher-level cognition and psychological well-being.
The key word here is subtle. We’re not talking about fetal alcohol syndrome.
Does that mean that I agree with his position? Not entirely — but then again, I don’t think that’s the point. Even though I’m not as concerned as he is that marijuana use could induce schizophrenic conditions in autistic people who use it (there has been vigorous debate over the alleged connection between marijuana use and schizophrenia, as well as whether people with autistic traits are more likely to abuse the drug), I also realize that I didn’t have the same traumatizing experience that he did with losing a loved one because of drug use. As a result, I was grateful that he was willing to open up to me about a painful story from his past in response to me opening up about my own experiences.
After all, it is unreasonable for people who support full marijuana legalization to insist that opponents listen to them without repaying the same courtesy to others.
Whether his position makes sense or not is entirely the point.
The Rozsa/Hickenlooper encounter is a good illustration of why expertise is more important than people’s feelings. Does it matter if cannabis use increases the risk of schizophrenia from 1% to something else? Does it matter if autistic people have fun taking a drug that also helps them? Keep in mind that autistic children are routinely treated with antipsychotics. If you’re just listing the disadvantages of something without doing a cost/benefit analysis, you’re just trolling. We should never do anything, because everything has a disadvantage, by that standard.
This is an important point: there are good reasons to think that autism and schizophrenia might be opposite ends of a spectrum, or at least have opposing effects on mentalization. The idea is that autism is not enough mentalization and schizotypy is too much. I’m too lazy to find the citation right now, but someone has shown that having both autistic and schizotypal traits is better than having just one or the other, in normals doing a perspective-taking task.
The relationship between autism and schizophrenia matters.
Rozsa moralizes about listening, and the interview starts:
In the end, if we’re going to create a more tolerant and open-minded political discourse, we need to do more than merely listen to other perspectives on controversial subjects. It is essential to respect the personal experiences that others discuss as being formative in helping them shape their views, as well as applaud those who are willing to alter their perspective after listening to others.
My next question is about marijuana policy. I know I sent [Press Secretary Jacque] Montgomery the article I wrote about that. Have you had a chance to read it?
I kind of glanced at it. I didn’t have a chance to read the whole thing. I’m dyslexic, that’s one of the carefully hidden secrets. I’m a very slow reader, so generally, they kind of just fill it out. But yes, I have a general understanding about basically what it said, yes.
In other words, the governor we’re wasting our empathy on doesn’t fucking listen.
On to more bullshit from the governor. Leaving out a bit where Rozsa says weed helps him and it turns into a conversation about the terms Asperger’s and high-functioning autism.
This is the crux of things:
My issue with — and this is the nightmare about having marijuana be a Schedule I narcotic — which means that we can’t use it, like we can opioids for goodness sake, but we can’t do medical research with it, right? My caution with autism — and it’s especially because of the people that do have let’s call high, now you’ve changed my language, high functioning autism, or I guess even called high functioning on the spectrum, on this spectrum of autism — we also know that there are certain people that have an inclination to bipolar, it’s not a large number, it’s not a significant percent of the population, but it is, at least I’ve been told, it is connected or it’s not infrequent, that it would be connected with someone who is on the autism spectrum. That they can take this high THC marijuana and it will trigger a permanent response. In other words, make them almost schizophrenic.
I know this because I have a friend whose son this happened to. And he was at Amherst College and doing great. Right before Christmas vacation his freshman year, he went out to a party and he got wasted and he never came back. And eight months later, he is just living on the streets. He ended up taking his own life, in an overdose. I think we’re not quite where we understand as with every other medicine, if you want to call it a medicine. Every other medicine we test and we figure out how we can predict who it is going to work for and who it is not. We do it in a medically supervised fashion. And I fully expect, we’re doing a bunch of tests here now in conflict with federal law, but I think within a year we should be able to allow our doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for autism. We didn’t do it this year actually. I vetoed it just because they went to all levels of the autism spectrum and my medical advisors said that they were concerned with people at the far end.
I think there’s still a way to make exceptions for people at all levels of the autism spectrum, but probably you need some safeguards, and we need to be a little more thoughtful than what the legislation we thought we saw was. You know, Georgia passed and Delaware passed laws to allow marijuana for people who are on the autism spectrum, but they did make a defining point. Not for everybody, but for those people that are severely autistic.
In other words, because cannabis is maybe harmful if you’re bipolar, and some autistic people might also be bipolar, no autistic people should enjoy the relief of cannabis. Got it.
It’s really common for schizophrenic people to have their first psychotic episode their freshman year of college, drugs or not. It’s stressful. This kid got wasted at a party, which presumably means he was drunk in addition to whateve weed he smoked. Next thing we know, he’s on the streets and dying of a presumed opiate overdose. A whole cascade of things went wrong for that kid. It takes mental gymnastics to blame the whole sequence of events on weed and then use that as an excuse to deny people medical care.
The governor’s feelings are fucking dumb and deserve no respect from anyone. Fuck the governor. Who the hell does he think he is, magnanimously granting us something we’re entitled to, maybe a year in the future if he’s feeling nice?
What’s the theory behind saying that weed is good for “severely” autistic people, but not just plain autistic people? I forget who said it first, but I like the slogan “there is no such thing as mild autism.” The functioning distinctions don’t serve any purpose except letting armchair psychiatrists like the governor of Colorado arbitrarily decide that weed is dangerous for me because I like it.
Okay, I appreciate that response… I agree completely, it is something that needs to be studied more. I just feel, yes, I just feel like I said it for me, it’s always interesting when I read scientists saying, ‘Oh, but we don’t know if it’ll necessarily help people.’ For me, I’m a Ph.D student and I’m a journalist and I’m getting married and I’ve served in local political office and I’m not some guy who sits around all day taking bong rips.
I do it because it helps me, for me personally, I have a lot of anxiety attacks that are directly related to autism and it blunts the edge.
That’s so great. It’s helpful for me to hear that from you. I mean we’re all human beings, right? And the more stories I have and hear, the more I’m going to push back on my medical advisors. The kid who died was my first campaign volunteer. He was my first intern when I was mayor. I mean, I knew his family very well. So that obviously leaves a scar. Is that just anecdotal? Is he a very rare person? Am I slowing down something that can be beneficial to a lot of people at all levels of autism, just because I had that firsthand experience? I don’t know. Maybe.
But that’s what I’m trying to, we’re trying to get numbers and then try to make the best decisions we can.
I sit around eating Rick Simpson oil, sucking on Volcano bags, and hitting my vape pen most of the day, every day. I get a lot of work done at work, and I generally have my shit together. I try to smoke lighter, more stimulating strains and I use a lot of CBD. Why does Rozsa feel guilty and defensive about smoking, to where he has to impress the governor? Why does he need the governor’s approval?
It’s good the governor seems to be pulling his head out of his ass, but he should’ve never been in a position to deny people drugs in the first place.
This interview shows the problem with being polite and deferential, extending sympathy to people who’d unapologetically do you harm. It’s something under-developed about liberals, where they never outgrew wanting to be the cool kids and started hating the cool kids and feeling entitled to dignity. Liberals are afraid of freedom.