James Dickson gets a hug from his mom, Babette, outside the family’s home in Steamboat Springs last week. Babette Dickson said she’s seen positive results since she started giving James medical marijuana in the form of edibles or tinctures.

Photo by John F. Russell

James Dickson gets a hug from his mom, Babette, outside the family’s home in Steamboat Springs last week. Babette Dickson said she’s seen positive results since she started giving James medical marijuana in the form of edibles or tinctures.

Steamboat mom sees results from giving autistic son medical marijuana


— A Steamboat Springs parent uses medical marijuana to treat her 13-year-old son’s autism.

Babette Dickson said she’s seen positive results since she started giving James medical marijuana. When Dickson gives it to him — in the form of edibles or tinctures — she said he’s less prone to outbursts.

She said James, who struggles with language, sometimes gets frustrated and angry when he has trouble communicating. She said he has anxiety. Yet, Dickson said James has been calmer the few times he has ingested medical marijuana.

“I think if some people are offended or shocked by this, that’s OK,” Dickson said. “I know what’s best for my child. It’s a choice I made for James.”

Dickson, who teaches French at Steamboat Springs High School, said she first learned about medical marijuana as a possible autism treatment method after seeing it used that way on a cable television news program. She started doing research, finding newspaper articles about other parents who successfully used the controversial treatment with their children in states where it was legal to do so.

Marijuana became legal for people with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation after Colorado voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000. California was the first state to allow it, in 1996. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., since have approved the use of medical marijuana.

Dickson long has been aware of marijuana’s benefits. She said her first husband smoked marijuana recreationally after he returned from Vietnam, where he served as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces.

She noticed how it treated his post-traumatic stress disorder and the pain he experienced from the shrapnel lodged in his body. She said it also treated the pain associated with the gallbladder cancer that ultimately took his life in 1995.

Dickson decided to give medical marijuana a try with James before last school year ended. Concerned about the chemicals in prescription medications and wary of their effects, Dickson said she’s never given James pills.

Just three times last year she gave James peanut butter cake or brownies containing marijuana before sending him to school. Dickson said James doesn’t know he’s been given medical marijuana. She observed his behavior before dropping him off and asked his teachers about his behavior during the day when she picked him up.

Satisfied with the initial results, Dickson took James to get a medical marijuana registry card in June.

After Colorado voters appr­oved Amendment 20, the state’s constitution was amended to allow the use of medical marijuana for eight debilitating conditions: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia (physical was ting away though weight loss and muscle atrophy), severe pain, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms.

The state constitution allows physicians or patients to petition the Colorado Board of Health to add a debilitating medical condition to the list of eight. Mark Salley, a spokesman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in an e-mail that the Board of Health had not been petitioned to consider autism.

And according to the most recent statistics on the department’s website, only 24 people younger than 18 had been approved to use medical marijuana as of Feb. 28, 2010.

Dickson said James suffers from muscle spasms. Because he is a minor, state law requires that two doctors approve his use of marijuana. Two physicians did so via teleconference from Rocky Mountain Remedies in Steamboat, a practice that is no longer legal.

One of the doctors, a Denver physician, declined to comment for this story. The other doctor, a Denver obstetrician and gynecologist, couldn’t be reached for comment. Several Steamboat physicians also declined to comment about the viability of marijuana as a treatment method for the symptoms of autism.

But as the news stories that Dickson researched indicate, she’s not the only parent who has given her autistic child medical marijuana. One of the most well known is the story of Sam, an autistic boy in Sacramento, Calif., whose parents started giving him medical marijuana last year when he was 10 because he was starting to get violent.

Sam’s father, Steve, has kept a journal detailing his son’s progress since he started using medical marijuana. In the most recent entry, dated Oct. 14, 2010, Steve wrote in a response to a letter that Sam was doing well. Steve said Sam takes medical marijuana only occasionally, about eight to 10 times per month, but when he does, it’s very effective at calming him down.

“We are continually grateful that we stopped traditional medication and put Sam on” medical marijuana, Steve wrote. “I fear that Sam may not be the healthy and happy 11-year-old that he is today if we continued treating him with doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals.”

Some national autism organizations have taken notice of the anecdotal stories.

Kelly Vanicek, secretary of the National Autism Association Board of Directors and its research chairwoman, said the organization doesn’t endorse or discourage the use of medical marijuana.

“It has been shown to have effectiveness in cases of gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, autoimmune disorders and tics,” she said during a telephone interview from Rhode Island. “A lot of those issues affect children on the spectrum. I can understand if parents have exhausted traditional treatment methods. We suggest parents should make their decisions with licensed medical professionals.”

Lu Etta Loeber, executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program, said the organization and its board have not discussed the use of medical marijuana to treat autism.

Dickson said she gave James medical marijuana for the first two weeks of school because he was working with new teachers. Since then, she’s given it to him only as needed. She continues to monitor his behavior.

“I don’t know how he feels. I don’t know how he experiences the marijuana in his body,” Dickson said. “He never asks for it. I don’t see any kind of substance addiction.”

Dickson said Steamboat Springs School District Super­intendent Shalee Cunnin­gham and James’ teachers know that she gives him medical marijuana on occasion. Kyle Mokma, a paraprofessional who works with James at Steamboat Springs Middle School, said he is skeptical of the treatment method.

Mokma, who studied psychology at Western Michigan University, said applied behavior analysis, a learning method that emphasizes the relationship between actions and consequences, is the only proven treatment method for autism.

But Mokma said he would like to study how medical marijuana, with and without applied behavior analysis, affects James’ ability to perform tasks and control his behavior. He said the study could start after the first of the year.

“Basically, I’m trying to demonstrate a treatment effect, whether these things help him control his aggression and stay engaged in activities,” Mokma said. “Because we haven’t had a chance to do a controlled study on medical marijuana and measure behaviors, I can’t say if THC is having an effect on his ability to control his aggression or perform tasks because there is no data yet.”

Tetrahydrocannabinol is tho­ught to be the active ingredient in marijuana.

Dickson said she came forward because she wants others to know that medical marijuana could be a viable treatment option for their autistic children.

“I want the community to know about this,” she said. “It’s not just for ski bums or people making excuses for bad backs.”


1999 5 years, 11 months ago

good for you for looking beyond the typical pharmacuticals


Marie Menk 5 years, 11 months ago

I think that medical marijuana is a great alternative to traditional medicine. I'm glad that you are brave enough to speak out about how James has improved with its use.


bandmama 5 years, 11 months ago

Good for you for working outside the box to help your child, and having the nuts to speak out and go public. Having an autistic child in the family, I know it is terrible feeling not being able to help them reach thier fullest without the use of prescribed meds. (that nine out of ten times results in turning the kid into a zombie.) Thank you for showing that unconventional medicine sometimes can do wonders. I wish you the best of luck and again, GOOD FOR YOU!!!


Scott Wedel 5 years, 11 months ago

Though, any such use should be required to be part of a study to determine if there are actual benefits.

And if it is medically justified then should be able to get doctors involved with childhood autism to recommend it, not teleconference with two Denver docs, one a Obygen. Unless he is also intending to have a sex change operation, I don't see why that is an appropriate doctor for recommending childhood use of mmj.


JJ Southard 5 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for the article, Jack! and thank you, Mrs. Dickson for the story. It's exciting to hear about cannabis working in some many facets. The community DOES need to know these stories....everyone from the angry neighbor, to the City Council, to the law enforcement agencies.... It's the best choice for a lot of people...the Natural Choice. :)


freerider 5 years, 11 months ago

Americans have become a pathetic nation of fear based morons...oooohhh don't legalize marijuana because it's dangerous ..I'm scared of it ...baaa baaa zero overdoses for MJ ever ...it's impossible to OD on Pot

I'm scared of terrorist's so we better start two politically inncorrect wars based on lies , fear and war mongers for profit

The sky is falling so we better bail out wall street ....run chicken run

pharmaceudicals kill ten times more people every year that all iilegal drugs combined

Amsterdam has legalized drugs, all drugs and have half the drug abuse the U.S.A has but no we insist on making drug cartels filthy rich ...the only people that want drugs kept illegal are scared sheeple , drug cartels and pharmaceudical company's

Just like flies to meadow muffins are Americans to fear based politics for profit

Legalize Marijuana now stop the insanity and drug cartels in their tracks If you want to be scared of something real , then be very scared of how much money the drug cartels are making...they are winning the drug war and cutting off the heads of anybody that gets in their way ...be afraid be very afraid because they fear nothing and have the money for better weapons than law enforcement ...paid for by U.S.A. drug money

70 year old drug war ....what joke , making gangsters rich

baaaaa baaaaa baaaaaaa


mmjPatient22 5 years, 11 months ago

Without saying, the best part of this whole story is the fact that this young man, finally, gets to experience safe relief from his autism. The benefits that cannabis has to offer are so miraculous that one often has to see it first-hand to believe it. I couldn't help but notice that, thus far(even though only 6-7 comments deep), this comment board has been thoroughly devoid of nae-sayers. It's hard to debate the medical evidence behind cannabis when there's an actual name&face behind the proof. How 'bout it, anyone out there feel like telling this kid that his mom is wrong?


Scott Wedel 5 years, 11 months ago

And that, in a nutshell, is the argument for mmj. That it seems to help some people with less side effects than the normal prescription drugs. That maybe mmj laws are a farce and just a form of legalization, but so are our prescription drug laws. Would it have been hard to get Ritalin or any number of other drugs for her kid? It was probably harder to not accept a bunch of daily prescription drugs.

Should a bunch of kids being going to school medicated? Absolutely not, but at least the school knows about this one and the kid has issues to explain his meds.


John Fielding 5 years, 11 months ago


The legalization of marijuana will not break the drug cartels, only take a little of the frosting off their cake. Does anyone acknowledge how much money there is in cocaine, ecstasy, meth, etc. That is the meat and potatoes of the illegal drug trade.

I think it is great that this parent has found a remedy for her son's condition. I believe that heroin and cocaine also have significant potential for good as well as abuse, and should be legally available. At least then the abusers would not be any more criminal than the tens of millions of alcohol addicts in this country, and far more likely to find help as they realize that they have a problem..

But drug based treatments are still problematic, no matter what flavor. The medicine of the future will likely be based on concepts we are just beginning to comprehend in western scientific terms, involving improving the flow of Life's energy through the incredible liquid crystalline structure of the human body with means as diverse as magnetic fields and focused meditations directed via biofeedback equipment.

Then too will we recognize the benefit of "getting high" as a release of stress that impairs proper function. We will just have found the means to do it without addictive substances.



muck 5 years, 10 months ago

Any law that allows the easy incarceration of any citizen any time those in power want to do it is the ultimate enemy of democracy


freerider 5 years, 10 months ago

John Rome wasn't built in a day and we have to take down the cartels ...

One step at a time ..legalization will break the cartels


jerry carlton 5 years, 10 months ago

I think it is great we have a HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER EXTOLLING THE BENEFITS OF MARIJUANA. We can make brownies, sell them in the high school cafeteria, tax the heck out of them and we will not need a property tax. The students may not learn much but they will be mellow.

We do not have to worry about the cartels. Another 20 years of illegal immigration and we will be Mexico, They will then have enough money to outbid big business and they will run the federal government instead of the corporations that run it now.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

Or maybe we can rescind high school diplomas of people that show that they could never have passed high school graduation requirements.

A mom medicating her son occasionally whom would "normally" be on strong prescription drugs is the equivalent of putting the drug in the school's cafeteria?


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

Or maybe we can rescind high school diplomas of people that show that they could never have passed high school graduation requirements.

A mom medicating her son occasionally whom would "normally" be on strong prescription drugs is the equivalent of putting the drug in the school's cafeteria?


freerider 5 years, 10 months ago

hey Jerry watch out the sky is falling ..run chicken run


hereandthere 5 years, 10 months ago

Actually, we probably would be better off if High School teachers would extoll the benefit of using marijuana instead of alcohol.


jerry carlton 5 years, 10 months ago

Scott It is fine she wants to medicate her underage son with MJ. The problem I have is that she is a TEACHER. Teachers are held to a higher standard like Sheriffs who drive impaired. I know you are familiar with the concept of sarcasm to make a point because I have seen you use it occasionaly.

freerider I am 66 years old and know what this country was 50 years ago and what it is now. Have you ever read any of the history of the Roman empire? "We who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

hereand there I missed the article on the HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER extolling the benefits of alcohol. What date was that on?


bandmama 5 years, 10 months ago

It doesn't matter what her profession is, this is about helping a kid with autism. I wouldn't care if she were the Pope, if this benefits the kid and allows him to maintain a more "normal" life than it is no ones business. If she forced Ritialin down his throat there wouldn't be an issue. She isn't making him smoke it for a buzz, it is being consumed in a different manner for the calming effects. Good for you Mom for thinking outside the box and trying to help your kid reach his full potential. Jerry- would you prefer that she stuff his body full of prescribed meds? Would it ease your mind if she medicated him with only man made chemicals?


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

The person giving mmj to her autistic son is a mother. She is a teacher in the classroom, not in her personal life. Teachers are not considered to be on duty 24/7 unlike people in senior positions in law enforcement.

It would be wrong if she is advocating the use of MMJ in her class at school. Just as it is wrong for a teacher to advocate their personal religious or political choices in the classroom.


housepoor 5 years, 10 months ago

So Jerry what was so much better or different about 50 years ago? At 66, your generation has been in power for most of those 50 years and still won't give it up. Looking back how did you guys do?


howard_roark 5 years, 10 months ago

jic- If we "become Mexico", as you say, then we won't have to worry about a drug problem anymore. Do you think it is the people of Mexico using the drugs trafficked through their country? They are simply the businessmen supplying American demand.

That said, I do wonder how we reconcile the hypocrisy of feeding marijuana to one student before school and suspending others for smoking it during lunch. Not saying she is wrong, but it does open a can of worms.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

Howard, Well, if there are other students that have a mmj license and are having an adult control their dosage then those students should also not be suspended.

I see it as basically the same as students using prescription drugs. If the prescription drug use is for a valid prescription then it is okay. If it is recreational drug use of prescription meds then it is grounds for suspension.


mmjPatient22 5 years, 10 months ago

Jerry- Being a self-professed old guy, and history buff, you must catch the occasional History channel show or two, right? Well, recently they aired a new special on my beloved cannabis plant. I would highly(no pun intended) recommend giving it a moment or two of your time, mainly because it could do wonders for the level of ignorance you have on the subject. Cannabis is not, and never was, any sort of devil's concoction or evil plant that turns people into blood-thirsty homicidal maniacs. There is not a single case in recorded history, not one, that ever identified the cause of someone's death to be an overdose of cannabis. There is a very distinct reason for this; it's humanly impossible to overdose on cannabis. That being said, what would you have this mother tell her students about cannabis if they should ask about it? Better yet, what would you have her tell her son about cannabis? Just because you're 66 years young, doesn't mean that you know better than other people about everything.


aichempty 5 years, 10 months ago

This is a case where the child obviously is unable to function normally and independently, and nobody would complain if she found relief by feeding him cabbage.

Prescription pharmaceuticals are just as bad, or worse, than cannabis. The only difference is that the prescription drugs are controlled to help prevent trafficking and abuse. Marijuana is trafficked and abused outside of the DEA system and that's why it is illegal.

Mothers who face this problem have to do something. What else are they supposed to do? Put the kids in institutions (that used to be the norm) or smother them with a pillow?

We don't know what causes autism, but it is on the rise and that is clear. It could be from use of illicit drugs by parents, causing genetic damage (prove that's not happening, folks), or from new car smell, or from listening to National Public Radio while pregnant. Time-wise, it is highly correlated with use of oral contraceptives for extended periods of time before the mothers become pregnant. If kids are being born with weird stuff wrong with them, that ought to be the first place to look.

In any case, this woman has a burden that nobody should have to bear. She should also have more common freakin' sense than to blast it across the front page of the newspaper. She could probably obtain equal results by feeding him alcohol, codeine cough syrup, or any other kind of sedative.


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