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Autism and Cannabis: Can it Help Manage Symptoms?

Most of us know a family that is impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s a devastating, yet common condition with around 1 in 59 children diagnosed in 2018. There is no cure for autism, and currently, only one prescription medication approved to manage its symptoms.

Because cannabis has been successful at managing neurological disorders like epilepsy, there is a growing interest in using it for developmental and behavioral conditions like ASD and into doing more research into autism and cannabis. In this article, we’ll explore whether cannabis is a viable treatment option for autism and what the medical community recommends.

Autism and cannabis therapy

Autism and Cannabis

People with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty with using language, communicating, and struggle with forming relationships. We still don’t fully understand the root cause of ASD, and treatment options for alleviating symptoms are mostly limited to behavioral therapy. With so few choices, many families have turned to cannabidiol (CBD) to help their autistic children find relief.

While mainstream medical professionals are still skeptical about using cannabis to manage autism, the anecdotal reports are very promising. Families want answers, and many are willing to investigate alternative options. There are a growing number of parents and groups like Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism that report cannabis in the form of CBD has helped improve behavior, reduce anger, and enhance relationships. These families were able to solve problems at home and school with the help of cannabis, but what does the science say?

Autism and cannabis classrom

Cannabis and Autism Research

Like many conditions managed with cannabis, the lack of scientific research means most of what we know comes from personal experiences. The good news is that early scientific research looks promising.

A small study in Isreal found that cannabis oil was “safe and effective” at helping to manage ASD symptoms. In Israel, medical cannabis has been studied for years and is legally approved as a treatment option for many conditions. In this study, data was collected from parental self-reporting of behavior and mood changes in 188 teens with ASD, and over 50 percent of patients reported improvements.

Another Israeli study looked at 60 children with ASD and found improved behavior incidents in more than 80% of patients. While these studies provide hope, there is still a lack of placebo-controlled, large-scale trials. Some experts are also concerned about long-term side effects and safety from cannabis use in developing brains.

While we still need more research, there is mounting evidence for the role of cannabis in helping many neurological conditions like epilepsy and Tourette syndrome. A large number of children with autism also have epilepsy, and the neurodevelopmental connection between the two is only beginning to be understood.

How Could Cannabis Work for Autism?

The endocannabinoid system regulates things like pain, hunger, anxiety, and neuronal excitability. We know that cannabinoids like CBD help manage epileptic seizures by giving the endocannabinoid system (ECS) a boost and bringing balance back to the brain. Cannabis might also be able to help children with ASD by helping to balance their ECS and support their attentional spectrum.

Because of the current lack of clinical data, many medical professionals don’t recommend cannabis as a safe medication for developmental or behavior disorders at this time. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be recommended soon. American medical cannabis policies are rapidly evolving, and new research studies are being developed all the time.

For parents who are considering cannabis, it’s essential to have open conversations with doctors and pediatricians about how to alleviate symptoms. Autism is a spectrum and doesn’t present the same way for all children. Cannabis may be a good option for some; it might not be for others. Some patients with severe forms of ASD are nonverbal, which creates additional challenges in making treatment decisions when the patient can’t communicate how cannabis makes them feel.

Autism and cannabis family

Autism and Cannabis Case Study: Jman

Jman, who has been diagnosed with ASD, began taking high-CBD cannabis to treat his Tourette’s syndrome when medical cannabis became legal in Minnesota. For over three years, Jman has stuck to his medical protocol and the improvements have been great! In addition to experiencing fewer tics, his parents feel that cannabis has helped alleviate some of his ASD symptoms and have allowed him to do better in a classroom environment.

Before the mainstream medical community can get behind cannabis, though, there needs to be more definitive clinical research into whether it is a safe and effective treatment. In the meantime, we have anecdotal evidence like that of Jman showing that cannabis is helping many families and patients with autism live more fulfilling lives.

If you’d like to know more about treatment options with medical cannabis, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our knowledgeable staff is happy to answer your questions.

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