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Drugs and Other Treatments

As They Relate to Autism and the Spectrum

"The Spectrum" generally means the autism Spectrum, including autism, Asperger's syndrome, PDD, and other autism spectrum conditions. Many people "on the Spectrum" are comfortable with the generic reference of "autistic".

These pages are is personal opinion of the authors. SCN doesn't take a position on these issues.

"Biomedical" autism treatments are described here.

In general autism is a personality (or personality disorder depending on one's political viewpoint). A significant percentage of people on The Spectrum -- probably the majority -- would object to a "cure". It's unlikely that drugs therapy would "cure" a personality condition in any meaningful way.

Regardless, some drugs may be considered useful by some. Here is the list:

1.   Caffeine
No other links yet (although this page was written with the aid of quite a bit of "organic shade grown" from Whole Foods). Caffeine is, after all, a drug of choice of many people in the workplace.

Caffeine is sometimes useful for people with Asperger's Syndrome to maintain alertness in circumstances which tend to have the opposite effect, e.g., an afternoon work meeting. Colloquially, I have seen several comments to the effect that, "caffeine is the only drug for autism."

(end of list)

If someone is "treating" autism with a prescription drug, they either are treating something else or are grossly mis-prescribing the drug. Autism is not treated with any accepted prescription drugs.

Experimental Treatments

The examples fall into the "politically sensitive" area. This is because of the nature of autism and Asperger's syndrome as personality types. Therefore drug therapies are likely to focus on temporarily altering the patient's perceptive state (rather than "curative" or attempting to reduce disease symptoms). Drugs in this category are hallucinogens.

Since hallucinogenics are used recreationally, their use for psychological treatment becomes a political issue. The recreational interest in these drugs does not negate their ability to provide perception in a therapeutic environment.

The history of some of these treatments focused on attempts to "cure" autism. These attempts at "cure" had a negative impact on subsequent investigations of treatments using hallucinogenic drugs. In fairness, this was from a time when autism was not well-understood.

Note: I am not encouraging the use of either of these drugs. I don't have any legal problem advocating this; it's just that I don't feel like being their proponent. I don't have either the knowledge or data to conclude that either drug would be beneficial. Marijuana is fairly well-known as to its effects, but LSD-25 involves issue which suggest professional supervision.

I do strongly advocate clinical trials being performed.

Medical Marijuana (MMJ)
Medical marijuana (MMJ) is not an option in many jurisdictions. While MMJ is being advanced in connection with autism, most of the experience in MMJ for personality conditions relates to ADHD.

Significantly, more "controlled study" psychological research is desperately needed. It is highly unlikely that MMJ will change the autism itself; however MMJ has the potential for therapy regarding social awareness issues.

From Autism and Medical Marijuana
In general these are personalities or personality disorders (depending on one's political viewpoint).

A significant percentage of autistics -- probably the majority -- would object to a "cure". As noted above, it's unlikely that drugs therapy would "cure" a personality condition. MMJ treatment is focused on socialization training; not an attempt at a "cure". Such training or therapy related to "perception" would be easily evaluated, and will provide novel results for anyone researching this.

As to the issue of legal access, there are medical conditions for which the need for MMJ is more obvious than therapy for autism.

Medical marijuana is proposed to address issues of:
  1. as a training aid to assist the subject in perception of social interactions
  2. sensory overload (e.g., "meltdowns")
  3. anxiety
CBS article on use of MMJ to treat ADHD

Article on one family's use of MMJ, for disorders which are apparently ADHD-related.

... and consider the following scenario:
"Dear Mrs.Smith,

Thank you for your letter. I feel we should apologise for sending your son home in such a condition last week. The School Nurse was absent and her medication list is not kept on the school computer system for obvious reasons. Regrettably, your son was given the wrong medication by the stand-in Nurse and he spent the afternoon on top of the cricket pavilion discussing Nietzsche with the sparrows.

I can assure you that this will not happen again, and we are considering a policy of tagging pupils who are on such potent medication."

Early studies [1] , mostly 1960-1965 (when Sandoz discontinued distribution of LSD), investigated the use of LSD in an attempt to "cure" autism. This research has been severely criticized as abusive by autistics, in part because of consent issues. It should be noted that the nature of autism was less understood at that time. The "curative" approach to autism was also problematic.

The politics of "cure" notwithstanding, there is an inherent problem with the early studies. LSD is the archetypical hallucinogenic drug. Unless one is going to maintain a lifelong LSD trip, it makes no sense as a curative treatment. The value of LSD would be in presenting a set of perceptions which may not otherwise be available to the patient. This was apparently never investigated during those early studies.

This early abuse resulted in a reluctance to experiment on the use of LSD in therapy. It is likely that LSD may be useful for therapy related to instruction, perspective or social conditioning.

It may be that a "non-curative" approach will be worth studying under professional guidelines.

The early research included studies by child psychiatrist Lauretta Bender (1897-1987). In most of her reports, she referred to "autistic schizophrenic children". At least one reference mentions that the children, "...became disturbed to the extent that they said we were experimenting on them." L. Bender, Children's Reactions to Psychotomimetic Drugs, Psychotomimetic Drugs, pp. 265-273; 1970.

Results of the Early LSD-25 Studies

The questionable approaches of these early studies notwithstanding, two items stand out:

1. The daily maintenance course of treatment (meaning daily dosages)
In addition to the "attempted cure" approach, this meant that the experiments did not test the possibility of using the perceptions or other results of the therapy as an education or therapeutic tool applicable to behaviour while not under the influence of LSD-25. Curiously, the concept of occasional use was addressed by other advocates of the drug at the time.
"... the dosage was gradually increased to twice or three times a week ... Finally, the drug was given daily and was continued for about 6 weeks.

The physicians conclude from the experiment that:

*   The children were generally happier; their mood was "high" in the hours following ingestion of the drug.

Bender L, Goldschmidt L, Siva DV: LSD-25 Helps Schizophrenic Children; Amer. Druggist, 146(13):33 (1962).

2. The "curative" approach to treatment.

Unethical Medical Experimentation

Unethical practices, notably by Lovaas and Bender are evident. The Bender documents admit to performing experiments on non-consenting subjects. [2] Least this be ascribed to the standards of the time period, consider that the issue was extensively litigated in "The Doctors Trial", part of The Nurenberg War Crimes Trials. The verdict for the Doctors Trials was handed down 21-August-1947.

Nevertheless, results of an "educational" or "therapeutic" nature were noted:

"... Nearly all of them were more alert, aware, and interested watching other persons. Some showed changes in facial expression in appropriate reactions to situations for the first time; many were able to understand and follow directions more readily. This increase in awareness was noted by all observers, including families, and was one of the most encouraging signs in these very withdrawn, regressed children. Personnel and parents were enthusiastic about the changes in the children, describing them as "more affectionate," "more aware," and interested in them or in siblings for the first time.
"Changes in speech and verbal communication in autistic children are always difficult to evaluate. We did observe, however, that the vocabularies of several of the children increased after LSD or UML; several seemed to be attempting to form words or watched adults carefully as they spoke; many seemed to comprehend speech for the first time or were able to communicate their needs. Many times, words or even sentences were used ... Very few of these changes in communication had been noted previously in such a large number of children, and at such a relatively rapid rate."

L. Bender, G. Faretra, L. Cobrinik: LSD and UML Treatment of Hospitalized Disturbed Children; Recent Advances in Biological Psychology, 5:84-92 (1963).

The above is not suggested as condoning the experimentation techniques and the value judgements implied by the researchers' analysis. It is merely presented to point out that clinically accepted documentary evidence exists to support properly constructed trials, with voluntary subjects. While early advocates did suggest an education therapy approach involving non-continuous treatment, there are no clinically accepted reports in this.

Non Maintenance LSD-25 Studies

Curiously, the proposals of Timothy Leary were directed to non-maintenance doses. His work gained some notoriety because of his self-medication and discussions of religious experiences. The following excerpt describes one of these experiments, in this case with psilocybin in a combined LSD-psilocybin study:

"... The sample included a woman who volunteered to take psilocybin at an average of two-week intervals during pregnancy ... [B]oth mother and child have showed no detrimental effects whatsoever. The mother reported that her own mental status and her reaction to the baby were much improved over those in four earlier pregnancies."
... during which she just drank a lot?
Leary T, Litwin GH, Metzner R.: Reactions to psilocybin administered in a supportive environment; J. Nerv. Ment. Disease, 137:561-573 (1963).

There are some more standard forms of research that were performed along the lines of perception training, although not focused on autism. Most notable was a study made in 1966 by Thomas M. Ling and John Buckman, in which six sessions of LSD are described, at apparently widely varying time intervals:

... A case of complete frigidity without other neurotic features is reported which has been fully relieved after six sessions of LSD. ... Her husband reports that the patient is much happier ... and that their sexual life has been revolutionized..."
Thomas M. Ling and John Buckman: The Treatment of Frigidity with LSD and Ritalin; Psychedelic Rev. 1: 450-458 (1966).
The later article is noteworthy as an example of the use of LSD to provide perspective to the patient. These were specifically not maintenance dosages, but instead a course of 6 sessions. I personally think he could have left the Ritalin out of these trials.


[1]^ Experimentation on autistic children using LSD-25
Harold A. Abramson, M.D., "The Use of LSD-25 in the Therapy of Children", Journal of Asthma Research, 5: 139-143 (1967)

L. Bender, L. Goldschmidt, D.V. Siva, "Treatment of Autistic Schizophrenic Children with LSD-25 and UML-491", Recent Advances in Biological Psychiatry, 1962; 4:170-77

L. Bender, L. Goldschmidt, D.V. Siva, "LSD-25 Helps Schizophrenic Children", American Druggist, 146 (13):33, 1962

L. Bender, G. Faretra, L. Cobrinik, "LSD and UML Treatment of Hospitalized Disturbed Children", Recent Advances in Biological Psychology, J. Wortis, editor, 5:84-92, 1963

L. Bender, "Theory and Treatment of Childhood Schizophrenia", Acta paedopsychiatrica, 34:298-307, 1968

L. Bender, D.V. Siva Sankar, "Chromosome Damage Not Found in Leukocytes of Children Treated with LSD-25", Science, 1968; 159:749

A.M. Freedman, E.V. Ebin, E. Wilson, "Autistic Schizophrenic Children. An Experiment in the Use of D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25)", Archives of General Psychiatry, 1962; 6 (203-213)

Robert E. Mogar and Robert W. Aldrich, "The Use of Psychedelic Agents with Autistic Schizophrenic Children", Behavioral Neuropsychiatry 1969 Nov;1(8):44-50

James Q. Simmons III, J.D., Stanley J. Leiken, M.D., O. Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D., Benson Schaeffer, M.A., and Bernard Perloff, "Modification of Autistic Behavior with LSD-25", American Journal of Psychiatry, May 1966, pp. 1201-1211

Sigafoos J, Green VA, Edrisinha C, Lancioni GE., "Flashback to the 1960s: LSD in the treatment of autism.", Dev Neurorehabil. 2007 Jan-Mar;10(1):75-81.

[2]^ Forced testing involving involuntary subjects:

L. Bender, "Children's Reactions to Psychotomimetic Drugs", Psychotomimetic Drugs, 1970; pp. 265-273
This article appears to document Lauretta Bender's performing tests using experimental psychotropic drugs on non-consenting children, in some cases against actual objection by the involuntary test subjects:  They became disturbed to the extent that they said we were experimenting on them. In two or three hours this passed off, and the next day we put them back into their group activity after repeating the dose ... 

Summary - Articles describing research by others: | history of autism research, behaviorism & psychiatry
Part of Kathleen Seidel's extensive website.

Sigafoos J, Green VA, Edrisinha C, Lancioni GE, "Flashback to the 1960s: LSD in the treatment of autism." School of Education, University of Tasmania, Australia. Dev Neurorehabil. 2007 Jan-Mar;10(1):75-81
(information from Jeff Sigafoos, reached at
This article lists the dates as 1959-1974, although it is possible that the later dates include things like Lauretta Bender bragging about her violations of the Nurenberg Protocols.

References Cited - These are cited in some of the above articles:

Abramson; H. A., Ed. "The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy", Transaction of a Conference on d-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD-25), New York, Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1960.

Bender L., Cobrinik L., Faretra G. and Sankar D. V. S., "The treatment of childhood schizophrenia with LSD and UML", Biological Treatment of Mental Illness (ed. M. RINKEL). New York 1966

Bender, L., "D-Lysergic acid in the treatment of the biological features of childhood schizophrenia", Dis. Nerv. Syst. 27: 3942, 43 (1966a).

Bender, L., "The treatment of childhood schizophrenia with LSD and UML". Biological Treatment of Mental Illness, edited by Max Rinkel, editor, pp. 463-491. L. C. Page & Co., New York (1966b).

Bender L.,  Childhood schizophrenia : a review . J. Hillside Hosp. 16, 1022 (1967);

Bender L.,  The nature of childhood psychoses , Modern Perspectives in International Child Psychiatry (ed. J. G. Howels). England 1968 (in press)

Bender, L. and Cottington, F., "The use of amphetamine sulphate (Benzedrine) in child psychiatry". Am. J. Psychiat. 99: 116121 (1942)

Bender, L. and Sankar, D. V. S., "Chromosome damage not found in leukocytes of children treated with LSD-25" - A letter to Science 159: Jan. 10, 1968.

Hoffer, A. "LSD: A review of its present status", Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1965, 183, 49-57. Rimland, B. Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior . New York: Appleton-C enturyCrofts, 1964.

Murphy, R. C., in Abramson, H. A., Ed., The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy and Alcoholism, Bobbs-Merrill, New York, 1967.

Peck, T. T., in Abramson, H. A., Ed., "The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy", J. Macy Foundation, New York, 1960.

Rolo, A., Krinsky. L.W., Abramson, H.A., & Goldfarb, L. "Preliminary method for study of LSD with children", International Journal of Neuropsychiatry, 1965, 1, 552555.

Row, A., Krinsky, L. W., Abramson, H. A. and Goldfarb, L., "Preliminary Method for Study of LSD with Children", Int. J. Neuropsychiat 1: 552, 1965.

Simmons, J.Q., Leiken, SoJ., Lovaas, Q.I., Schaffer, B., & Perloff, B. "Modification of autistic behavior with LSD-25", The American Journal of Psychiatry, 1966, 122, 1201-1211.

Wavily, R. C., in Abramson, H. A., Ed., "The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy", J. Macy Foundation, New York, 1960.

POSSIBLE OTHERS - These discuss appear to discuss different topics but may contain references to involuntary LSD experimentation on autistic subjects:

Abramson, H. A., Jarvik, M. E., Gorin, M. H., and Hirsch, M. W.; Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25): XVII. Tolerance development and its relationship to a theory of psychosis, J. Psychol. 41:81, 1056.

Bierer, J., and Browne, I. W.: An experiment with a psychiatric night hospital, Proc. Royal Soc. Med. 53:930, 1960. 7. Hoch, P., Experimental psychiatry, Am. J. Psychiat. 111(10):757, 1055.

Faretra, G. and Bender, L.: Autonomic nervous system responses in hospitalized children treated with LSD and UML., Recent Advances in Biological Psychiatry, J. Wortis, editor. 7: 1 (1965).

L. Bender, "Theory and Treatment of Childhood Schizophrenia", Acta paedopsychiatrica, 34:298-307, 1968

Bender L. and Faretra G.: Organic therapy in pediatric psychiatry., Dis. nerv. Syst. Monog., Suppl. 22, 1 (1961)

Bender L. and Gurevitz S.: The results of psychotherapy with young schizophrenic children., Amer. J. Orthopsychiat. 25, 162-170 (1955)

Bender L. and Helme W.: A quantitative test of theory and diagnostic indicators of childhood schizophrenia., Arch. Neurol. Psychiat. (Chic.) 70, 413 (1953)

Bender L. and Keeler R. W.: The body image of schizophrenic children following electroshock therapy., Amer. J. Orthopsychiat. 22, 335355 (1952)

Cobrinik L. and Messis C. (in preparation for publication)

Faretra G. and Grucett A. E.: A five year follow-up report of children treated with electric convulsive therapy., Crianca port. 21, 461471 (1963)

Faretra, G. and Bender, L.: Autonomic nervous system responses in hospitalized children treated with LSD and UML., Recent Advances in Biological Psychiatry, J. Wortis, editor. 7: 1 (1965).

Goldberg, I.: Use of remedial tutoring as a means ofpsychotherapy in schizophrenic children with reading disability., Quart. J. Child Behav. 4, 273 (1952)

Gurevitz S. and Helme W. H.: Effects of electroconvulsive therapy on personality and intellectual functioning of the schizophrenic child., J. nerv. ment. Dis. 120, 213-226 (1954)

Hoch P. and Pollatin J.: Pseudoneurotic forms of schizophrenia., Psychiat. Quart. 23, 448 (1949)

Kallmann F. J. and Roth B.: Genetic aspects of preadolescent schizophrenia., Amer. J. Psychiat. 112, 599 (1956).

Sankar, D. V. S., Broer, H. H. and Cates, N.: Studies on biogenic amines and psycho-active drug actions with special reference to LSD. Trans. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 26: 369376 (1964). Schilder, P., Psychological effects of Benzedrine sulphate., J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 87: 584 (1948).

Most of these references can be found at Kathleen Seidel's website, which includes LSD Studies With Autistic Children. Kathleen has done an incredible job in collecting these resources and we are indebted to her for her efforts.

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This page written 6-May-05 from text incorporated into website 03-2005. Website first posted 9 Aug 02. Last revised 24-Oct-12.

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