There is no cure for autism, and medical professionals use a combination of behavioural therapies and medications to help their patients. Now, however, anecdotal evidence from both families and doctors suggest cannabis-derived medicines may also help in the management of this complex condition.
Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that affects over 1% of the world population. While it is a lifelong disorder, early signs of autism are usually observed in children aged 2 to 3 years old. Autism is not a single condition. Instead, the term refers to a complex range of conditions generally characterized by developmental challenges particularly in the areas of social skills, communication, and behaviour. In its basic sense, autism affects how a patient develops. The exact signs or symptoms of the condition, however, can vary greatly from one patient to another. Some people with autism may be nonverbal, meaning they cannot use words to express their feelings. Others, however, may be extremely verbal and actually love talking. Some patients may seem really gifted in areas like science and maths while others might be extremely creative. Autism affects every patient differently, which is why it is defined as a spectrum disorder; patients with autism fall along a scale (or spectrum). Along this spectrum there are a variety of different symptoms or developmental challenges which affect each patient to different degrees.
- Autism is a collection of disorders that impact brain development, characterized by communication difficulties, social interaction problems, and repetitive and sometimes injurious behaviors
- Autism is caused by a combination of genetic mutations and environmental factors, such as advanced parental age and pregnancy problems
- Autism management focuses on therapies over drugs, including behavioral modification and social-skills coaching
- There are no clinical studies on cannabis and autism, but there is a growing body of positive anecdotal evidence from doctors and parents
- Lack of scientific data keeps doctors from endorsing cannabis in treating autism, but some promising ancillary research exists
- The many active compounds in cannabis may make proper dosing for children difficult to pinpoint, creating controversy in the medical community over its use
The exact causes of autism aren’t clear. In 1998, a study published in The Lancet claimed that vaccines for conditions like measles, mumps, and rubella were associated with the condition. However, that study has since been retracted and the author eventually lost his medical license. There is no credible evidence that proves that vaccines cause autism.
Certain drugs have also been linked to autism. Most notably, valproic acid (found in anticonvulsant medication prescribed to epilepsy patients) can increase the risk of autism in children when taken by the mother during pregnancy.
The Dilemma with Cannabis Treatment
It’s a chicken-and-egg thing: Doctors won’t prescribe cannabis to treat autism in children because no data exists to support such a course of treatment.
But the research doesn’t exist because of medical establishment fears about testing cannabis—with its many active compounds seen as potentially uncontrollable variables—on children.
In the absence of empirical data, however, is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that cannabis is making children with autism happier and healthier. And some doctors are listening.
HOW IS AUTISM TREATED?
There is no cure for Autism. Instead, medical professionals aim to work with patients to manage their condition via behavioral modification, social-skills coaching, and other behavioural therapies. As every autistic patient experiences their condition differently, autism management plans vary greatly too. However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting the efficacy of at least 2 early intervention methods. These are known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the Early Start Denver Model.
AUTISM AND CANNABIS
Just like autism is a complex condition that affects patients differently and to varying degrees, cannabis is also a complicated medicine that also has different effects from one patient to another.
While no clinical research has yet explored how cannabis consumption can affect patients with autism, there is some positive evidence from both doctors and parents with autistic children.
Mieko Hester-Perez, founder of The Unconventional Foundation for Autism, has openly explained her success treating her son Joey with medical cannabis. Her story is very similar to that of the Figi’s and even inspired the naming of new cannabis variety (known as Joey’s Strain) by Kushman Genetics.
One professional looking in to the effects of cannabis on autism is Dr. Giovanni Martinez, a clinical psychologist from Puerto Rico. One of Dr Martinez’s biggest successes came from working with Kalel Santiago, a patient who was completely nonverbal. By simply using a hemp oil spray rich in CBD twice daily, Martinez claims Kalel has finally managed to begin speaking.
The problem surrounding this evidence, however, is that it is anecdotal, meaning it’s not enough to convince doctors or medical professionals to prescribe cannabis or cannabis-derived medicines as a treatment for autism.
THE FUTURE FOR CANNABIS AND AUTISM
Although the state of Delaware and Pennsylvania already count autism as a qualifying condition for becoming a medical marijuana patient, more laboratory trials and clinical studies are needed before we can come to solid conclusions about how cannabis or its active compounds affect autistic patients.
However, this is not to discredit the success stories shared by people like Ms Perez or Dr Martinez. Anecdotal reports are important for helping to identify new areas of research Now we just need to conduct this research to find out the potential for cannabis in the treatment of autism.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind.