Medical cannabis has been associated with multiple neurological and chronic disorders in the last decade or two. So much so that multiple states in the US have legalized the use of cannabis to manage symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Every legal state (for cannabis use) has a list of approved medical conditions that require cannabis support. Most of these states have mentioned autism and other neurological conditions like epilepsy (or severe seizures).
What Research Has to Say
Multiple studies have advocated the potential of cannabis in improving autism-related symptoms. However, these studies are not conclusive and more research is still required.
That being said, cannabis has always been a crucial part of natural medicine. Before the complications of its legal status and the drug war, cannabis was a common form of medication recommended for a handful of medical conditions.
In this article, we’ll go over the research that has been conducted so far, especially on the herb’s use in managing ASD symptoms in children.
Using Cannabis for Children: Is it Safe?
When it comes to autism in children, things get a little complicated.
This is the period when a child’s brain is still developing; therefore, treating it at this point can help them live a normal(ish) life later on. At the same time, introducing mind-altering compounds like THC at such an early age can backfire. Since we’re still unsure how beneficial or detrimental THC can truly be, childhood or adolescence might not be the time to introduce this compound.
Instead, you can depend on CBD.
CBD or cannabidiol is the other most famous cannabinoid found in cannabis that is best known for its pain-relieving, calming, and anti-seizure benefits. The cannabinoid is so effective that even the FDA has recognized its potential.
Epidiolex, a medication for epilepsy in children, is the only CBD-based medication that has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
It is a known fact that one of the side effects of autism in children and adults alike is the frequent occurrence of seizures. The prevalence of ASD in patients increases their chances of being diagnosed with epilepsy and vis a vis. This has made patients and their parents hopeful regarding the potential of cannabis (especially CBD) as a treatment for the condition.
However, it is also known that CBD and THC work best in synergy. CBD or THC, by themselves, has limited benefits. However, even together, they work the best when combined with chemical compounds found naturally in the cannabis plant. These other compounds can be minor cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, CBN, THCV, or aromatic compounds called terpenes. These terpenes, like myrcene, linalool, limonene, pinene, etc., give cannabis strains their distinct aroma and flavor but also contribute to the therapeutic effects of cannabis. When all these compounds work synergistically, they lead to an entourage effect.
Studies often dive into the overall benefits of whole cannabis plants, which are capable of a balanced and overall effect. For example, a 2018 study conducted at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center looks into the impact of whole cannabis plants on children diagnosed with autism.
With cannabis doses of a 20:1 (CBD: THC) ratio, parents reported the following:
- 61% of the children showed improvement in their behavioral symptoms
- 39% of children exhibited a reduction in anxiety levels
- 47% experienced an improvement in communication
- 24% of children were able to stop their medication altogether
- 30% of the children reduced their overall intake of medication
However, not all the results were positive:
- 8% of the children had to increase their intake of medication
- 14% experienced hypervigilance that caused sleep disorders
- 9% experienced heightened irritability
- 9% experienced a loss in their appetite
- 9% were restless
Other similar studies have been conducted through the years and in different countries with similar results. For example, an equivalent dose administered to ASD children for 66 days noted a significant improvement in self-injury, rage attacks, anxiety issues, sleep disorders, and hyperactivity.
- It is crucial to note that none of these studies are without their drawbacks. To begin with, a significant percentage of the study group ended up with negative effects.
- Also, these studies were without a placebo-controlled group for comparison
Future Scope for Research
A lot of research has already been conducted hints at cannabis as a viable option for treating symptoms of autism. However, still more research is required to dwell on its possible side effects.
Since cannabis is still considered illegal at a federal level, there are a lot of restrictions on its research. These tight regulations across the nation have limited the scope of research so far.
Keeping in mind that cannabis (with THC) can have a negative impact on a child’s development, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of the plant to treat autism. Instead, the herb is best recommended for patients that have tried traditional medication without any promising effects or when the patient is suffering from severely debilitating conditions.
Cannabis has shown a lot of potential in treating symptoms of autism. Even with limited evidence (both research-based and anecdotal), parents are looking into more natural ways of targeting the syndrome, which has led them closer to cannabis.
Patients who cannot find relief from traditionally prescribed medication are recommended to consult medical marijuana doctors from reliable clinics like MD Ganja to try their luck with cannabis. It is, however, viewed as a last resort and should not be opted for without professional help.
Benefits of Cannabis in Patients with Autism
This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the expert’s views and do not necessarily represent the views of CannaList EU.