According to the CDC, about 1 in 44 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, a trend that has been dramatically increasing over the years worldwide. The number is higher if you analyze the affected population by location (the prevalence in California is more than double that of Missouri) or by gender (boys are 4.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls).
Up until recent years, parents of an autistic child could only resort to traditional medicines to address autism symptoms. Unfortunately, in many cases such medicines were ineffective or although effective, they presented undesirable side effects forcing parents to choose between a rock and a hard place. More recently, studies have shown that medical marijuana can be an effective alternative to treat children with ASD.
What is autism? Is autism curable? How can medicinal marijuana help treat ASD? We’ll answer these questions and more below.
What is Autism?
Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder characterized by a wide range of conditions that present persistent challenges with social skills, restricted interests, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and degrees of severity of the condition.
Autism presents itself early in life and in many different ways depending where the patient is in the spectrum. Some common autism signs are: unwillingness to maintain eye contact, absent or delayed speech, inability to express emotion or feelings, difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues, repetitive behaviors, self-harm, hyperactivity, rage tantrums, aggressive behavior, unusual sensitivity to light, sound or touch (to name just a few).
Is Autism Curable?
When a loved one is diagnosed with ASD, it’s natural to wonder: is autism curable? Although autism is not curable since there are no treatments that can address the condition itself, there are treatments that can help children and their families cope with the symptoms. Autism symptoms vary case by case depending on the particular presentation of the condition but usually the treatment involves a combination of the available options presented below:
- Pharmaceuticals (ie. antipsychotic drugs, stimulants, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, anti-anxiety medication, gastrointestinal agents)
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): a comprehensive study of the child’s functional challenges that is used to structure a behavioral plan to address social skills/behavioral challenges as well as to improve the patient’s adaptive skills (self care, education, motor skills, etc). It can be very effective when used in combination with medication.
- Psychological therapy
- Occupational therapy (ie. to help with handwriting and mastering daily living activities)
- Physical therapy (to help control/ improve mobility)
- Social skills training (to help with navigating social situations)
- Speech and language therapy
- Hippotherapy, art therapy, music therapy, recreational therapy
For many years parents of children diagnosed with ASD have been using a combination of the treatments presented above. Unfortunately, sometimes those treatment alternatives fall short either because they are ineffective or because the side effects of traditional pharmaceutics can be detrimental. Fortunately, parents now have another alternative that is proving to be very effective: medicinal marijuana.
How Can Medicinal Marijuana Help Treat Autism?
As previously stated, traditional pharmaceuticals are not always effective at treating some of the symptoms presented by ASD patients. For example, a study found that the risk of antipsychotic treatment failure is double in young patients affected by comorbid psychosis and ASD versus that of their peers unaffected by ASD. This is just one of many examples where ASD increases the risk of treatment failure in patients for other comorbidities and one of the reasons why parents have been decisively looking for effective alternatives. Fortunately, both practical evidence and studies have been able to show that medicinal marijuana can successfully help manage symptoms even in treatment-resistant ASD patients.
How can medicinal marijuana help treat autism? To understand this, first you need to ask how does an autistic brain work? An autistic brain works differently from a non-autistic brain because of anatomical differences that in turn have an effect on how different areas of the brain are connected and able to communicate with each other; in other words, the shape of an autistic brain is different and this translates into reduced neurological connectivity which impacts a variety of essential human body functions.
Enter the cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant: when the body’s own endocannabinoid system is impaired or misfires due to reduced connectivity and creates problematic symptoms, medicinal marijuana’s cannabinoids can step in, and by interacting with the endocannabinoid system they help regulate the body’s release of neurotransmitters. This role positively impacts some essential human functions like circadian rhythms, emotional responses, inflammatory and immune responses, learning, memory and pain control.
Many parents that have implemented medicinal marijuana as a course of treatment for their autistic children report overwhelmingly positive results in how administering a compound combinating cannabinoids such as CBD and THC that are present in marijuana can play a key role in helping young patients deal with ASD symptoms. Most notable effects such as mood improvements, better ability to focus, reduced rage meltdowns, reduced anxiety, improved communication skills, reduced hyperactivity, improved sleep, decreased aggression and self-injuries are a common occurrence when following this line of treatment. By being able to manage their symptoms with cannabis, patients have also been able to reduce or completely leave behind some pharmaceuticals traditionally used (and their nasty side effects).
Autism and Weed: Is it Legal?
For a long time it has been known that combining autism and weed yields positive results for patients affected by this condition. Unfortunately, sometimes parents willing to give that course of treatment a chance aren’t able to access medicinal marijuana legally in their home state, forcing them to make the difficult decision of finding weed in the black market or moving their family to a state where the use of cannabis for medicinal use is approved by law. So far in the US, 14 states and Puerto Rico include autism as a qualifying condition for the use of medicinal marijuana, and some other states allow its use to treat autistic patients under the discretion of their doctors and are considered “autism friendly”.
In Texas, the inclusion of autism in the Compassionate Use Program list of qualifying conditions in 2019 has been a game changer for hundreds of families by granting patients who suffer from ASD legal access to medicinal marijuana in the Lone Star state, eliminating the stigma, risk or difficulty of accessing illegal substances and knowing instead exactly what components go into the product their children are consuming.
Gone are the days when parents had to research weed strain charts, now they can leave that to the professionals. Indeed, the use of medicinal marijuana under a care provider’s supervision makes a world of difference because a cannabis physician can identify which strain of marijuana is best for particular symptoms and also determine the appropriate dosage, effectively providing a customized plan of care for each patient’s specific needs. Given that autism can manifest with a wide range of symptoms that vary in intensity, having access to a treatment that is customized significantly increases their chance of success with this line of treatment, in clear contrast with traditional medications’ one-size-fits-all approach.
For many years patients and their families struggled to find the appropriate solution to treat autism symptoms, many even dealing with treatment-resistance without escaping the negative side effects of traditional pharmaceutics. Thankfully, research, medical and legal advances have provided a new alternative by including the use of medicinal marijuana as a viable treatment option with excellent results.
At Texas Cannabis clinic we treat patients of all ages with ASD and by doing so, we help radically change their quality of life and that of their entire families. We constantly witness success stories where the adequate line of treatment with medicinal marijuana helps improve verbal communication and dramatically reduce meltdowns, aggressive behavior and self-injury as well as insomnia and anxiety. If you have questions on how medicinal marijuana can help manage your or your autistic child’s specific symptoms, contact us.