There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that cannabis can treat autism, but there’s little research to back it up. To investigate these claims, two bi-coastal research groups are initiating major studies. In New York, researchers are looking at the effect of non-psychoactive cannabinoids over years. Additionally, at the University of California, San Diego team is studying cannabis’ neuronal and behavioral effects on children with autism.
Though parents of children with autism have long advocated for cannabis accessibility, this could be the first step in legitimating cannabinoid medication for autism.
What is Autism?
According to the Autism Society of America, autism is “a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate.”
Autism is a ‘spectrum disorder’, meaning that its severity and symptoms can vary. These can include seizures, the complete inability to speak, anxiety and frustration.
There are numerous of anecdotal cases of cannabis functioning as a treatment for autism. Scott Badesch, President of the Autism Society of America, told High Times that they hear from a lot of parents who extol the virtues of marijuana for cannabis.
“No one has said, ‘I’ve had my son or daughter on medical marijuana and it didn’t help’,” Mr. Badesch explained. “The question is: What is it helping?”
What Parents Say About Autism and Cannabis
In California, Mieko Hester-Perez tested 13 pharmaceutical treatments for her son Joey’s autism. It wasn’t until she began administering medical marijuana brownies that Joey began socializing, resume playing with his toys and show fewer signs of anxiety. Not to mention, the traditional medications for autism had a host of negative side effects.
Furthermore, Abigail Darm, mother to Yuval who has autism, was impressed by her son’s response to medical marijuana. Yuval became less aggressive and anxious after the first medical marijuana supplement. This success led Mrs. Dar to conduct her own research into marijuana for autism, which is easier in her native country of Israel.
Examples of parents turning to cannabis as a last resort for autism and celebrating its results abound in the US and abroad. Across the nation, parents are protesting to give autistic children access to medical marijuana. For example, the Louisiana Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism gathered at their state courthouse.
The New York Clinical Trial Looks At CBDV
The research will take place at NYU Langone Health and the Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Eric Hollander is leading the study. Specifically, they’ll be looking at the effects of non-psychoactive cannabinoids CBDV on children with autism. CBDV resembles the better-known cannabinoid CBD.
The sample pool spans 5-years-olds to 18-year-olds, whose conditions vary in severity. Over the course of this three-year clinical trial, 50 percent of the patients will take non-psychoactive cannabinoids, and the other half will take placebos.
Without knowing which sample pool took which dose, scientists will note the participants’ irritability, sociability, ability to adapt and interact with the world and family life.
Research On CBD At UC San Diego
This second clinical trial, led by Dr. Doris Trauner, MD, looks at 30 children between 8 and 12-years-old with acute autism. It will not include children with epilepsy.
This research will last one year and test the results of CBD, which is also non-psychoactive. Again, half the children will take a placebo rather than an actual cannabinoid. Scientists will observe behavioral changes and CBD’s impact on neurotransmitters and autism’s “biomarkers of neuroinflammation.”
More Research Could Mean Better Treatment
These aren’t the first clinical trials on medical marijuana and autism. They are, however, well-funded and significant, especially in the context of the American healthcare system. Though anecdotal evidence is promising, Mr. Badesch looks forward to more data. “We want scientific research so that a parent and a doctor can say ‘ok, here’s what the research shows,’ ” he explains.
Many parents believe that cannabis can help autism, but these studies will show us what exactly it’s helping. “A lot of people want autism to be a condition that allows you to get medical marijuana,” says Mr. Badesch. Hopefully, these clinical studies will lead to better cannabis access in the near future.