The entrepreneur shares his experiences with autism and the medical cannabis community


Mental health has been in the spotlight more than ever. As COVID continues to make it difficult to socialize and disrupt our normal lives, this is one of the hardest hits in all of this. This is especially true for children and adults on the autism spectrum who would find this disorder to be very difficult. A local restaurateur from Watertown decided to document his own son’s experiences with autism, the pandemic, and how medical cannabis helped make his life a little better.

“Dante my son has been through a lot in 2020, between routine changes and everything else,” said Mario Cortolezzis, owner of Mario’s Italian Kitchen and Southfork BBQ in Watertown. “In September we started making videos on TikTok to see if parents were struggling with the same things we are.”

The TikTok appearances began not only as something Dante loves to do, but also as a way for the Cortolezzis to connect with other families facing similar challenges. Within a few weeks, the TikTok had around 1,000 followers, studying Cortolezzis and Dante, sharing their own experiences with autism and the pandemic.

Eventually, for a variety of reasons, Cortolezzis began studying the idea of ​​medicinal cannabis. The most important thing is that Dante is in the spectrum. For him personally, everything going on in 2020 has really exacerbated what Cortolezzis calls “extreme behavior”.

At the beginning of the year, Cortolezzis received Dante’s first prescription for medicinal cannabis. With the TikTok still a part of his life, Cortolezzis decided that it would be good to document Dante’s experiences as there were other families in the community with similar problems. Within a few hours, the video had over 700,000 views. In three weeks, the videos reached 7 million people.

Now Cortolezzis is to be part of a new documentary film about Dante’s journey. He is in contact with celebrities and is asked to speak at conferences. The documentary is being made by W2 Films, a production company in Minneapolis, with director Richard Wallin and producer Lynn Younglove, a Watertown local. The aim is to stream the documentary on Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

However, this is not the only gift Cortolezzis received within 20 days.

“I got my son’s gift back,” he said. “It’s amazing how he’s changed.”

According to Cortolezzis, medical cannabis helped Dante feel better and do better. It’s important to note that medical cannabis is very different from the normal idea of ​​marijuana. Dante and other patients in the program are taking a controlled substance, just like everyone else, when they are on a prescription drug.

“Tablets, vapor oils, tinctures, and topical medicines are all legal in Minnesota,” said Sarah Overby, director of medical education at Vireo Health. “Water-soluble options have also recently been approved.”

In Dante’s case, the drug is made up of 19 parts of CBD and one part of THC, and most start that way, according to Overby. As with many drugs, the doses start out very small and are adjusted to the needs of the patient.

“We are developing drugs that are very specific milligrams of THC and CBD and very specific ratios and are very consistent,” said Overby. “In this way we know exactly how high the dose is for each patient.”

For Dante, this helps slow down and not feel overwhelmed in his daily life, especially when his routine is disrupted. Without the overwhelming feeling, extreme behaviors are reduced and the patient is generally relaxed. To coined Cortolezzis’ metaphor, “He went from hundreds of miles an hour to about 80”.

When it comes to kids, autism, and medical marijuana, Overby also gave some insight into how prevalent it is and how it works. As of 2017, autism has been a qualifier for obtaining medical cannabis. As with any other drug, a prescription is required, which means everyone in the program is present on the recommendation of a doctor or psychiatrist.

Of the 30,000 people who use medicinal cannabis in Minnesota, only about two percent do so because of autism, according to Overby. Of those two percent, most of these patients are between 5 and 17 years old. Autism is associated with a wide variety of behaviors based on social difficulties, extreme behaviors, and many side effects such as stomach problems, anxiety, and depression. All of this can be treated with medical cannabis.

It’s not a panacea, but it covers a wide spectrum so well because it likes to be there. Most antidepressants and pain relievers do their best work in the endocrine or nervous system. This can be a problem, especially with pain medication, as overdosing can lead to serious side effects and even death. At the time of writing, no one has ever died from using medical or other marijuana because it uses a completely different system: the endocannabinoid system.

“You could think of the phytocannabinoid, which is the CBD part of the plant, as neuroprotective,” Overby said. “Fortunately for autism, the CBD part of the plant has been found to be more effective, which is great for kids who take it.”

CBD can help relax patients, and with its help with anxiety, it can help even nonverbal patients communicate. All in all, it can really help patients function well in their daily lives regardless of a global pandemic.

To obtain medical cannabis, patients must register through the Department of Health under the Medical Cannabis tab. You must do this on the recommendation of your doctor. Once registered and approved, they can go to a pharmacy and start the process for their prescription. This includes finding a dosage and the best way to take it.

Would you like to support Cortolezzis or see the trip for yourself? Log into TikTok and search for “@mariocorto”. He, his wife, and Dante will continue to document their journey and keep their followers informed of their progress.