Autism or autism spectrum disorder encompasses a variety of conditions that deal with problems relating to social skills, repetitive behaviors, and verbal and nonverbal communication. However, it is often characterized by unique strengths, talents and abilities. Each person experiences autism in a very individual way although there are universal symptoms that are visible in patients. Autism is usually detected between 18 months and 3 years of age. Developmental issues may arise that will lead to the discovery of the condition. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with some form autism. The number has increased 10 times over the last 40 years with boys being about 4 or 5 times more likely to develop the condition.
Attempting to Determine the Cause of Autism
Nobody really knows what causes autism although a range of possible contributing factors have been determined in recent years. According to research, autism can be traced to early brain development. Mutations or rare gene changes may be the catalyst for autism to develop. Early environmental factors, genetic predispositions and difficulties during pregnancy can all be factors that affect brain development. None of these things on their own cause autism but along with genetic factors, they may increase the risk. Research indicates that women can actually lower the chances of their child developing autism if they eat diets high in folic-rich foods.
The 2 Most Common Medications Prescribed for Autism
There are only 2 medications generally provided for the relief of some of the symptoms associated with autism. Risperidone and Aripiprazole can be prescribed for tantrums, aggression, irritability and to prevent self-harm but their side effects are extremely severe. They can lead to diabetes, weight gain and heart problems just to name a few. Behavioral therapies that target social skills are the most common treatment associated to autism. These behavioral therapies include the Lovaas Model, the Early Start Denver Model, Pivotal Response Therapy, Floortime and Verbal Behavior Therapy.
Using Medical Marijuana for Autism Treatment
Given the help that marijuana has been able to provide for so many different conditions, parents of children suffering with autism decided to explore whether the plant’s many medicinal benefits could also help their children. The results of using medical marijuana for autism were startling and parents have been able to successfully treat their children’s symptoms without the negative side effects associated to the commonly prescribed drugs. Parents found that CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana, was able to greatly reduce panic, anxiety, aggression, tantrums and self-injury. Interestingly enough, parents also found that higher doses of THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, was able to successfully treat children who were unable to communicate or comprehend what was going on around them. The children were able to smile, hug, calm down, listen and communicate.
Acknowledging Anecdotal Evidence
“Anecdotes should not be dismissed,” Dr. Daniele Piomelli, who is one of the leading neuroscientists and endocannabinoid researchers in the world, told Leafly. “An anecdote is a pointer. It’s something that suggests something needs to be either proven or disproven.” But while all of this anecdotal evidence is quite powerful, more studies need to be conducted in order to make medical marijuana for autism treatment available to children struggling with the condition. All the research this far has only provided some insight into how the plant may be working to help children.
Relations Between Autism and the Endocannabinoid System
There was a 2013 study, performed by Dr. Dario Siniscalco that was published in Neuron that explored medical marijuana for autism and found that a mutation of neuroligin-3, a membrane protein that’s often linked to the development of autism, also affects endocannabinoid signaling. The connection to the cannabinoid receptors indicates that marijuana can be used to manage the symptoms of autism. Another 2013 study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental disorders, conducted by Dr. Csaba Foldy at the University of Naples along with Stanford University Medical School, also studied medical marijuana for autism and discovered that the CB2 receptor is overexpressed in people with autism. The link may be the key to understanding how the symptoms of autism can be controlled without the use of dangerous medications.
Positive Results in Israel Cannabis Research
Israel has been leading the world in cannabis trials with 110 clinical trials involving marijuana currently underway. When pediatric neurologist Adi Aran discovered that many of his patients were experiencing positive results through the use of cannabis, he decided to conduct his own trial. Patients were given 1 of 2 different cannabis strains or a placebo. Patients’ painful symptoms, such as anger, aggression and irritability were in fact greatly reduced by the use of cannabis. While a lot more research is needed to determine the most effective way of treating patients with autism, all of the studies to date as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a definite link between autism and marijuana.
The Hurdles Blocking Cannabis Research Into Autism Treatment
Unfortunately, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it is in the highest risk category alongside heroin and LSD. This means in an official context it is still thought to have no medicinal value despite being legal for medicinal purposes in 29 states and Washington D.C. Very few states in the country have placed autism as a qualifying condition for treatment, so it may still be extremely difficult for parents to provide medical marijuana for autism as a treatment for their children even in states where medical cannabis is legal. More research is needed in order for officials to start to recognize the potential that marijuana has in treating autism.
Cautious Federal Expansion of Research
Up until last August, official research into the medical benefits of marijuana were outlawed. The only facility in the country used for official marijuana related research was one out the University of Mississippi. The marijuana used at the facility is extremely poor quality and no research on the benefits of marijuana were approved. Now, if researchers are willing to go through the arduous process of getting official government approval to conduct studies, this option is available although many scientists are concerned about meeting all the potential government hurdles to conducting the studies.
With the welfare of children at stake across the country we can only hope that it’s only a matter of time before enough studies are conducted so that the essential information can be gathered that would help to develop a powerful formula for providing medical marijuana for autism. There’s enough evidence collected thus far to promise further research is not a shot in the dark.