Cannabis and Autism: The Emerging Discourse

Autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the U.S., with 1 in 68 children facing an autism diagnosis. Diagnoses for autism are more common in males, where statistics are showing that 1 in 48 males experience this disorder. Prevalence of this disorder is only increasing over the years.

As the cannabis movement shoots forward, the use of cannabis as a treatment for aspects of autism is coming to the forefront. Could cannabis hold promise for those suffering from autism and their families?


A Look at Autism & Impacts

Since autism presents differently in different people and can take different forms, the disorder is often referred to as a “spectrum” to describe the wide variations in challenges and strengths that people with autism have.

According to the organization Autism Speaks, autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. It’s believed that autism is caused by different genetic and environmental influences.

Supporting a child with autism takes a great deal of love, dedication, and support by family members, with the estimated cost of supporting a child with autism being $60,000 annually.

At present, there is no early detection or cure for autism, leaving families to treat their children with strong antipsychotic drugs that have strong side effects for the user that include sleepiness, tremors, focus issues, depression and weight gain. People are wanting different options for medications for the loved ones with autism, and are now looking to cannabis.  

The Chicken and the Egg of Cannabis and Autism Research

As professionals working alongside prescribing doctors and cannabis dispensaries, MyCannX has been able to witness the way that cannabis can benefit those with a number of diseases, disorders and medical issues. As an organization that derives much of its work from our personal experiences with autism, we’ve been encouraged to see the emerging discourse surrounding cannabis and autism, however slow.

Cannabis and autism are much like a chicken and egg situation, where cannabis won’t be prescribed because of lack of research. There is a lack of research because of the legal status of cannabis and the ethical question of administering cannabis products to children.

In spite of this, one doctor in Israel is seeking to fill the gap in the research on autism and cannabis.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Israel since 1992, where the country has been significantly more progressive in cannabis research than the United States.

Finding that he was being asked time and time again about the connection between cannabis (more specifically CBD or cannabidiol) and autism, pediatric neurologist Dr. Adi Aran began his own observational study where he observed 70 of autistic patients using cannabis oil ranging from ages 5-29. He saw a great improvement in most of his patients, with many of them lessening the degree to which they were self-harming, and many becoming more communicative. These observational results prompted him to call for a full-blown clinical study.

The study, which launched earlier this year in Jerusalem and is expected to end in 2018 will include 120 low- to medium-functioning autistic individuals between the ages of 4 and 30 and will focus on behavior and communication, and how those are impacted by cannabis oil. The autism community will be eager to see the results of this study, and if and how they are eventually replicated in the United States.

The Continued Promise of the Endocannabinoid System

Like many of the observational and clinical studies on CBD, the endocannabinoid receptors in the human body are showing to be effective in repairing the way the brain sends signals and improves cell function. Other studies support that cannabis can contribute to significant improvements in hyperactivity, lethargy, irritability, and compulsions towards inappropriate speech. Many who study autism believe that the condition is caused by a disruption of the brain’s ability to send clear signals and are encouraged by what evidence is available.

The gains that have been made in recent years in studying both the endocannabinoid system and autism has been what has led to the increased desire of clinicians, like Dr. Aran, to study cannabis for autism. Their efforts demonstrate the hope that data comes out in favor of cannabis significantly impacting behavior and communications with those with autism.

The Importance of Anecdotes

While the empirical data is lacking and there aren’t the formal, clinical or peer-reviewed resources available for cannabis and autism that there are for other disorders, anecdotal evidence cannot be dismissed.  Dr. Danielle Piomelli, a leading endocannabinoid researcher at the University of California-Irvine says, “An an anecdote is a pointer. It’s something that suggests something needs to be either proven or disproven.”

The growing body of anecdotal evidence is why there is a growing movement among the autism community to push for more research for autism.

Grassroots organizations across the country are coming out to support access for their children. Such efforts are Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism, which strives to advocate nationally to ensure autism is recognized as an eligible condition for medical marijuana. They want to see everyone with autism have access to cannabis because they see before their eyes what cannabis can do to improve the behaviors and overall quality of life of those with autism using cannabis.

Another organization that is seeking to change the way people use medications for autism is The Unconventional Foundation for Autism, founded by Meiko Hester-Perez. Perez found that after using cannabis therapy as an alternative to a concoction of prescriptions for her son Joey who has Autism and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, communication with her son became possible.

MyCannX remains a dedicated connector between families and physicians who are willing to explore cannabis therapy for autism. We help people with getting their cannabis cards, and thus we add to the anecdotal evidence surrounding medical cannabis and autism.

As a voice for the cannabis industry, MyCannX also wants to be informed of how cannabis is impacting those with autism. We’re dedicated to sharing your story and having that be a part of what gives the cannabis movement for autism its strength.