Marijuana for Autism

With the rise of the medicinal use of cannabis, more and more clinical experiences seem to indicate its potential as an analgesic for anxiety and hostility in certain cases of autism.

Sometimes it may seem that autism is a medical condition that is difficult to live with and for which it is impossible to find a reliable treatment. Could marijuana be the solution?

As cannabis is used more for medical purposes, more evidence is emerging of its potential as a pain reliever for anxiety and hostility in certain cases of autism.

Autism can be difficult to identify. It may seem like a term used to encompass many very different groups of individuals, often with different types of symptoms. Modern treatments can often be ineffective due to this diversity, and physicians are constantly seeking new treatments for their autistic patients. Since cannabis is establishing itself as a legal treatment option, could it be the solution doctors are looking for? To answer this, we will first have to understand it:

What is autism?

Autism is a learning disability that affects one in every 100 children, normally becoming evident from 3 years of age. Autism spectrum disorder affects people’s behavior, communication skills, and understanding of social interactions. The severity of this learning disorder can range from severe and disabling to virtually unnoticed.

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In the case of individuals with highly functional autism (or Asperger’s), autism can manifest itself from an early age through difficulties in learning to speak and later by a lack of understanding and empathy with other people.

Marijuana for Autism

Highly functional patients may have an obsessive interest in very specific topics or a difficulty in understanding social situations. Despite the fact that some studies have indicated that, in general, patients tend to have an average or higher than average intelligence, to the inexperienced they may seem simply strange or socially maladjusted. Unfortunately, this can often lead to ridicule and isolation.

On the low-functioning spectrum, individuals often have disabilities in almost all areas of development. They may have a tendency to self-harm, very little ability to remember names of places or people, and older, many are epileptic. They may have severely limited receptive and expressive abilities, leading to cases where they are completely unable to speak or communicate.

Due to this heterogeneity between patients, finding a reliable treatment can be really complicated, and traditional medications seem to have mixed results. Despite the fact that autism patients may share some symptoms, the disorder can affect each one in a different way, so the treatments have to be personalized for each patient.

Psychic disability is simply measured with an intelligence test, which is the determining factor to distinguish between high and low functioning individuals. It establishes the classification of the patients and if they will receive education and of what type. Although this obviously serves as a tool for psychiatrists in diagnosing their patients and deciding on the treatment that best suits their quality of life, it does not always work well. The nature of autism is inexplicably more complex , making these simple analyzes inappropriate for choosing the treatment to use.

Cannabis as a treatment

So let’s talk about cannabis. Some forms of autism are believed to actually be the result of natural cannabinoids in the brain.  Cannabinoid deficiency has been associated with many very different disorders and diseases, and is believed to play a critical role in the development of autism in children. Researchers from Stanford University discovered that the symptoms of autism are caused by a genetic mutation that blocks the natural production of endocannabinoids and alters the interaction of these chemicals with the brain. Natural endocannabinoid molecules, however, have a structural similarity to phytocannabinoid molecules (such as THC and CBD) present in plants such as marijuana.

The Autism Research Institute found that using controlled and safe doses of cannabis, a significant improvement in the behavior of some autism patients is observed. Hostile, anxious, and self-destructive behaviors seemed to decrease. Furthermore, they highlight that autism is highly treatable, but that simply the current treatment alternatives usually bring a series of harmful side effects.

The empirical aspect 

In 2008, a California father was brave enough to tell his experience treating his autistic son with cannabinoid therapy on television. In California, where the therapeutic use of marijuana is legal, this father had tried to contain his son’s violent and destructive mood swings with a wide variety of medications until he finally decided to try cannabis doses. She gave her son a cannabinoid concentrate twice a day (the substance was not decarboxylated, so it had no brain effects on the child) and stated a great improvement over the child’s previous behavior. While other previously prescribed medications had only worsened her violent episodes,

This father declared: “It is as if all the anxiety, rage and hostility that was inside him disappeared. Sam was more physically relaxed and began to tolerate physical contact for loving reasons instead of becoming aggressive. It was incredible!”

However, even though cannabis administration was a resounding success in this case, it does not mean that it is the perfect solution. Autism symptoms vary greatly and finding the ideal solution for each individual is vital to managing this unpredictable cognitive disability. Certainly more in-depth clinical studies are necessary.

Living with autism requires a lot of love, perseverance and enormous patience.

It is very hopeful to know success stories like the one we have here, which bring us closer to a world in which cannabis can be more accessible to those who really need it.