Medical marijuana: a valuable treatment for autism?

Medical Marijuana for autism

Does Medical Marijuana Work on Autism

Writing in “Medical Marijuana,” author and physician Mark Sircus says that an average of one in every hundred children in America has autism. Telling the story of one such couple’s child, Dr. Gafanovich of Manhattan Physical Exams writes:

“as medical marijuana users, the parents were familiar with the wide range of cannabinoids, strains and effects offered by cannabis. They knew pot’s cannabinoids change neurochemical circuitry and the flow of neural transmissions in areas of the brain affected by autism.”

Medical marijuana is in the news almost every day. A new breakthrough. A discovery. An old affliction brought under control.

Research into the medicinal properties of pot is happening as both sides of government stake out their positions.

Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to be the country’s lead lawyer last autumn instantly upped the questions about the prospects of an American industry that hauled in an estimated $6.6 billion in lawful sales in 2016. Seven more American states chose to decriminalize marijuana in some form on Election Day.  In total, eight states have decided to legitimize the drug recreationally, and 29 states have sanctioned medical marijuana.

For its part, Congress is keeping the Justice Department from disbursing any money that disrupts state medical marijuana laws.

In their recently revealed budget bill, lawmakers included a prerequisite, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which permits states to continue crafting their medical marijuana practices without concern for federal interference. The bill, which funds the government through the end of September, is expected to pass this week.
Medical Marijuana and Autism

Autism is a collection of afflictions which impact the brain’s development. Markers include difficulty communication, problems interacting socially and repetitive — sometimes dangerous — behaviors. Caused by genetic and environmental factors, autism management looks at therapies over drugs.

Currently, there are no clinical studies looking at cannabis and autism, but there is a growing body of positive work and evidence from physicians and parents.


The Dilemma

It is a chicken-and-egg problem. Physicians don’t prescribe cannabis to treat childhood autism as no data exists to support that course of treatment. The research doesn’t exist as the medical establishment fears testing cannabis on children.


Current Autism Treatments

Each child is unique. The therapy which serves one child may not for another. The smallest problematic therapies are behavioral and include social-skills instruction, or parent-led treatment under the guidance of a trained, licensed therapist.


As children get older, methods like comprehensive structured and therapeutic exercises and motor skills growth may be valuable.

Medical Treatments

There are few approved medicine treatments for autism. There are only two drugs sanctioned by the FDA to treat irritability linked with autism, but no medication has been adopted to care for autism’s three key components: communications challenges, social difficulties, and repetitive practices.

The two approved medicines are:

  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)

Despite these two medications providing relief, there may be severe side effects such as diabetes, weight gain, and heart problems.

Other drugs are experiments and come with notable unknown risks.


Cannabis as Autism Treatment

Parents of kids with critical autism are turning to marijuana. Many have noticed reports of success and some have read of good outcomes with epileptic kids. That’s not to mean there are no encouraging studies.

In 2013, Dr. Dario Siniscalco noticed indicators that some compounds — such as the CB2 receptor — seen in cannabis can be beneficial in autistic management.

Another study, this one written in 2013 also, by Dr. Csaba Foldy discovered that altering endocannabinoid may be conducive to autism.


How Do Endocannabinoids Work?

Endocannabinoids seem not only to be vital in regulating normal social behavior but also involved in dysfunctional behavior accompanying some forms of autism spectrum disorders. Researchers are looking to see if interfering with endocannabinoids, social behavior in kids with autism can be normalized.


Is It Worth the Risk?

Scientists are driven by data. Few physicians are currently willing to recommend cannabis to treat autism. Presently dosing can be problematic as many parents are not equipped to asses and monitor adequate dosing.  Small doses may be good. Since researchers are dealing with plants, there are additional layers of problems. With pharmacological drugs, there is an active compound in treating a condition. Often there can be a type of synergy between ingredients. Despite being overall positive, this doesn’t reduce the complexity of finding which compound is helpful or harmful.

The late Bernard Rimland, the founder of the Autism Society of America, wrote, “the benefit/risk assessment of medical marijuana seems benign when compared to Risperdal.”