See previous reporting on how marijuana could become legal in Ohio in 2023 in the player above.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – When Raymond Chandler was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 14 in the 1990s, pill after pill was shoved down his throat.

From Effexor and Wellbutrin to Prozac and Paxil, the Clintonville resident, now 36, said pediatricians “loaded [him] up with everything they could” to suppress the social and behavioral symptoms associated with his neurological disorder. It wasn’t until 2020, however, that Chandler said he discovered a “wonder drug” unlike the rest: cannabis.

“Since I’ve started using this, I’ve climbed two whole corporate ladders,” Chandler, a software engineer, said. “Why is that? Well, because I’m more sociable, I’m able to get my thoughts out, I’m able to communicate better with people. It has actually improved my life.”

About 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with some form of autism, a life-long disorder that’s often accompanied by comorbidities like epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues and immune dysfunction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Autism also lacks a cure, and there’s no medication to treat its core symptoms. That’s why Chandler and other advocates are urging the State Medical Board to add it to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

“In terms of medication, the most successful thing that I’ve been able to find is cannabis,” Chandler said. “And when I turned 18, right, or when I turned 21 – whatever that cutoff is – I should have access as an adult to a pathway to treatment.”

On Feb. 8, the State Medical Board advanced autism, along with irritable bowel syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, for expert review and public comment to help board members decide whether the disorder qualifies for medical marijuana.

But from 2019 to 2022, the State Medical Board rejected annual petitions to include autism on the list. Though some studies suggest marijuana alleviates symptoms of autism, the board cited fears like those of physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, saying more research is needed to understand the drug’s impact on people with autism.

“In our view, there is little rigorous evidence that marijuana or its derivatives is of benefit for patients with autism and anxiety, but there is a substantial association between cannabis use and the onset or worsening of several psychiatric conditions,” said Nationwide Children’s Hospital physicians Pankhuree Vandana, Anup Patel and Amy Newmeyer in a 2022 letter.

State lawmakers have also backed legislation qualifying autism diagnoses for medical marijuana – a pathway Chandler believes is more viable given Nationwide Children’s Hospital opposition before the State Medical Board, he said.

In March 2022, the Ohio House voted 77-14 to pass House Bill 60 to add autism to the list, but the Senate never took it up for consideration. More recently, Sen. Stephen Huffman (R-Tipp City) sponsored a proposal to qualify autism and other conditions, including arthritis, migraines, and opioid use disorder, for medical marijuana.

“Luckily for the autistic community, we have representatives on both sides of the aisle,” Chandler said.

Like any drug, Chandler said marijuana comes with risks and side effects. That’s why he said the decision to treat autism with cannabis should be made between patients and their doctors – an alternative avenue that was never available to him. Instead, Chandler said his 14-pills-a-day regimen coupled with back-and-forth visits to psychiatric facilities subjected him to “immense suffering” in his early years.

“I believe that had I had access to cannabis back then, I would have much more fulfilling memories to share with you today,” Chandler told state lawmakers in 2021. “Sadly, they are just not there.”

The State Medical Board is expected to make a final determination on autism, IBS and OCD this summer.