Can Cannabis Be Used to Treat Autism Symptoms?

Parents with children that have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have a difficult time finding solutions to keep their child’s symptoms at bay without turning them into a zombie. This is where many parents have turned their focus away from antipsychotic prescription medications such as Risperidone and towards medical-grade cannabis solutions. Let’s look at the reported benefits of using marijuana to treat autism symptoms and what cannabis compounds are being developed to treat ASD in the future.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Symptoms

Children diagnosed with ASD develop at different rates in different ways with individual cases beginning before the age of 3 and lasting throughout a person’s lifetime. Those diagnosed with ASD may have delays in language, social, and learning skills, while their ability to walk and move around are about the same as other children their age. They might be very good at putting puzzles together or solving computer problems, but they might have trouble with social activities like talking or making friends.

Given the complexity of ASD and the fact that symptoms and severity vary there are notably many causes (based on genetics and environment). Those with ASD often have sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain and other stimuli that can be exacerbated by overstimulation. Unfortunately, since those with ASD do not have the social communication skills to adequately cope with this overstimulation, they often relapse into ritualistic behaviors that can sometimes lead to seizures, tics, depression, restlessness, and rage attacks.

Presumed Benefits of Cannabis From Patient Testimonials

Families of ASD patients have been able to show the autism community in recent years that ASD can help to balance their endocannabinoid system (ECS), stop seizures, and support their attentional spectrum. Just by regulating the ECS, patients with ASD have been able to subdue their anxiety and neuronal excitability greatly.

A study published in Scientific Reports on the topic of cannabis supplementation on autistic patients found that more than 80% of the parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their child’s ASD symptoms after six months of treatment. 66.8 % of patients reported an increased quality of life, mood and ability to perform activities of daily living after six months of treatment (that’s twice the increase compared to three months prior).

These results have led the autism community to believe that a non-psycho-active cannabis extract could possibly help with autism symptoms and reduce epileptic seizures as well. Families of patients have used the findings in these preliminary studies to test the effects of cannabis on their ASD diagnosed loved one as a safe and effective alternative to relieve their symptoms.

Treating ASD Symptoms with Clinical Cannabis Compounds

More recent studies are focused on finding non-psychoactive chemical compounds to ensure that ASD patients receive all of the benefits of regular strains of cannabis while having a more productive high. A new clinical trial at Montefiore Medical Center in New York will examine the effect of a cannabis compound called cannabidivarin, known as CBDV, on irritability and repetitive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder. Since CBDV does not cause a high, it may very well be a viable option for ASD patients if further testing shows that’s the case.

In 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, which was the first ever medicine is comprised of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat two rare and severe seizure disorders. Clinical trials showed it decreased seizure activity by an average of 45% to 50% in patients with Dravet syndrome. The success of Epidiolex in treating epilepsy has motivated the TSA to allow Epidiolex on airplanes and test a cannabis-based drug to treat autism.

Of course, more definitive clinical research needs to be completed to determine whether cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for ASD patients. In the meantime, there is a wide array of anecdotal evidence from families and patients with autism that shows that cannabis can help those with ASD live more fulfilling lives.

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