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How Cannabis Can Assist Patients with Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a general term for a spectrum of disorders that affect brain development. ASD commonly impairs social interaction and communication, among other symptoms. Depending on severity, some children can live well with certain treatments, but others with severe cases can be left with the inability to speak and the tendency to self-harm. As of 2018, it is estimated that 1 in 59 children in the United States are affected by ASD.

Scientific studies, concerning the effects of cannabis and autism, are extremely limited. There are, however, a growing number of parents that are speaking up about how much medical marijuana has benefited their autistic child’s life. We are going to take a closer look at what science does say about the potential benefits, as well as highlighting some stories from people who swear by this magical plant.

What Science Says about cannabis

A 2018 study by Dr. Adi Aran, a pediatric neurologist in Jerusalem, assessed effectiveness and tolerability of cannabis in 60 children with ASD and severe behavioral issues. The results were fascinating, with behavioral outbreak much improving in 61% of patients. The ending note stated, “This preliminary study supports feasibility of CBD-based cannabis trials in children with ASD.” Adverse effects were minor, and included irritability (9%), loss of appetite (9%) and sleep disturbances (14%).  A subject given a high THC content strain reacted with a brief psychotic episode, which required an antipsychotic treatment.

Before his passing in 2006, Dr. Bernard Rimland was an expert on ASD. He was the founder and director of the Autism Research Institute and founder of Autism Society of America, held a PhD in Experimental Psychology and Research Design, and even served as the primary technical advisor on autism for the movie Rain Man. Rimland was in favor of using medical marijuana as a treatment for ASD. In the Autism Research Review International, he stated, “Judging from the evidence in hand, I believe legalization of medical use is justified. Legalizing marijuana for non-medical use (as has been done with alcohol) is quite another issue. Early evidence suggests that in such cases, medical marijuana may be a beneficial treatment, as well as being less harmful than the drugs that doctors routinely prescribe.”

A 2013 study from the Second University of Naples found a link between cannabinoids and potential autism treatment. Dr. Siniscalco, who conducted the study, wrote “Our data indicate[s] CB2 receptor as potential therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of autism care.”

What parents say about cannabis

Many parents of children with severe autism have exhausted every resource, tried numerous treatment options, and still watched their child go through medication after medication while suffering terrible side effects. A growing number of parents have decided to turn to a more natural type of medication in the form of medical marijuana. Television, internet and radio have begun to see a large number of parents of children with autism as well as autism patients themselves, have amazing success with medical marijuana. Here are two stories from mothers who have shard the stories of their children’s journey with medicinal cannabis.

Meiko and Joey Hester-Perez

Posted on an autism support network website, an Orange County mom named Mieko Hester-Perez tells her account of how medical marijuana changed her son’s life.

Joey was diagnosed with severe autism at five years old and was prone to unpredictable and sometimes violent tendencies, such as hitting himself or throwing objects. His mother, Mieko, continuously sought how to help her son, including trying behaviour modification, dietary changes and over thirteen different medications. The medications seemed to work only for a few weeks, and then they would have to change medications again. These constant medication changes and their side effects were hard on Joey’s body, giving him seizures, liver damage and a severely decreased appetite. At 10 years old, Joey weighed only 48 pounds, a whole 22 pounds under the average weight for a child his age.

After joking with friends about the possibility of using marijuana, Mieko decided to do some research on the matter. She came across a post by Dr. Rimland, where he talked of the positive effects medical marijuana could provide for those with autism. Mieko discussed the idea with Joey’s pediatrician and decided to give Joey medical cannabis via infused brownies that she baked herself.

The results were immediate. “Joey was mellow”, Mieko explained, “He wanted to sit in his room and play with his toys. Autistic kids don’t want to play with toys. We noticed that he wasn’t on edge as much.” Joey had even begun smiling and talking, which he did not do before. Improvements were being made.

Joey has continued to take medical marijuana, and Mieko has spread the word on the success. She has appeared on Good Morning America, as well as other media, and even began her own website, The Unconventional Foundation for Autism website, “Is leading the way in non-traditional treatments and therapies not covered by healthcare providers or that place a burden on families who cannot afford services such as Aquatic Therapy, additional Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapies, your contributions will directly help support the advancement of our mission.”

Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Marie Myung-Ok Lee began giving her son cookies infused with medical marijuana when he was nine years old. In an article in the Washington Post she wrote of how she watched her son struggle since his infancy. At 18 months old, he had two major surgeries on his spinal cord, which left him immobilized in a cast for a year. It was at this time that his violent rages started, occurring sometimes as many as 300 times a day. When he was 3, he was diagnosed with a gut disease that was causing him pain for most of the time, this is also when he was diagnosed with severe autism.

As with Mieko Hester-Perez, Marie and her husband tried a large number of treatment options, including applied behavior analysis, horse therapy, auditory integration and occupational therapy, among others. At five years old, he was eating a hypoallergenic diet and attending a special school, but the anti-inflammatory prescribed for his gut disease made him susceptible to violent episodes. Two years later, his medication stopped working and his violent episodes reached their limit.

His school called Marie and her husband weekly, demanding changes to be made and recommended the drug Risperdal. Marie was hesitant after reading accounts of adults calling Risperdal a ‘chemical lobotomy’, as well as listing severe side effects for children. Things had reached their breaking point for Marie and her family until, during an online search, she came across information on cannabis assisting other medical conditions and wondered if the plant could also help her son.

Gathering More Information

For more information she attended a medical-marijuana patient group at Brown University, where she taught. The accounts of severely ill patients discussing how cannabis improved their lives gave her hope. After conversations with her son’s neurologist her son became the youngest person to hold a medical marijuana license in the state of Rhode Island. After trying numerous different strains over time and different methods of ingestion, they chose to administer via oil tincture.

She wrote, “It left him clear-eyed and alert, without the constant pain-furrow in his brow or off-the wall rages.” She continued, “It seemed like a miracle. And seven years later, it’s still working.”

There are more success stories being told as time goes on. Forbes even wrote an article titled Desperate Parents of Autistic Children Trying Cannabis Despite Lack of Studies, exploring more success stories from parents and why they are plausible.

What Cannabis Strains Would Work Best for Autism?

Accounts from parents and preliminary studies have shown low THC/high CBD stains, or even CBD only products to be the most effective.

As legal cannabis becomes more commonplace around the world, we can assuredly expect further studies on the link between cannabis and autism treatment. Until those studies are released, we will no doubt be hearing more stories of successful medical marijuana treatments from many across the autism spectrum as well as their parents. We do know this – that cannabis is making a difference for millions across the world, and the potential it holds is extraordinary. 

Always purchase your cannabis from a OMMA licensed dispensary, and in always follow all Oklahoma Laws.