Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 1 in 68 Canadian children and youth.
Autism comes with social, communicative, and behavioral difficulties which can be challenging and frustrating for people with ASD and for their parents and caregivers.
Behavioral modification therapy is the standard treatment option for children, but people with severe autism can also be prescribed medications such as antipsychotics and antidepressants.
Recently, there has been increasing interest in using cannabis as treatment.
Some adults with autism find weed helps manage their symptoms, and some parents who are giving their young children cannabis oil are reporting very positive results.
But, in the absence of medical research to back up the anecdotes, doctors are still skeptical and not willing to prescribe cannabis to minors.
Introduction to autism
As a lifelong disorder, autism is defined as having difficulties with communication, social interaction, and repetitive behavior.
Although some children reach certain developmental milestones “on time”, parents usually notice “unusual behavior” in early childhood, between the age of two and three.
The exact cause of autism is still unknown, but it is believed that both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to developing this disorder.
- Delay in learning to speak, difficulties in language comprehension
- Intense focus on interests
- Difficulty with social interaction
- Repetitive movements such as flapping hands, rocking
- Sensory sensitivities
- Preferring familiar routines and environments
Autism is a spectrum disorder. Not all children and adults with autism have intellectual disabilities. While some have difficulties speaking and severe problems, other people on the spectrum do well in school and work.
But the unemployment rate among adults with autism is staggeringly high — 80%.
Anxiety, depression, other mental health disorders, as well as sleep disorders, are frequently associated with autism.
How autism is usually treated
Finding the right therapy for children is difficult, but it seems clear that early intervention can make difference in later development. These therapies include applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech and language therapy, and social skills therapy.
When it comes to medical treatment of people with autism, the most common are SSRIs and antipsychotics.
These drugs may provide relief from some symptoms and behavioral issues, but at the same time, they can cause other health problems (such as heart problems and diabetes, movement disorders, weight gain).
Can marijuana really help people with autism?
While people swear cannabis helps keep symptoms in check, there are only a handful of studies of marijuana and autism.
The studies are few because doctors are not willing to give marijuana to children without previous scientific data that proves it really works.
Due to their less prohibitive cannabis laws, Israel has become one of the world leaders in cannabis research since their legalization of medical cannabis back in 1992.
Israel is home to more than 100 studies regarding medical properties of marijuana.
One Israeli study found that cannabis is very effective in reducing epileptic seizures and behavioral issues in children with autism. (1)
This is a crucial part of treatment since 19 percent of children with autism also suffer from seizure disorders.
In a 2013 study, it was noted that the endocannabinoid system, and particularly its CB2 receptor, has potential therapeutic properties for managing autism. One of the main cannabis substances called THC can bind to that specific receptor. (2)
Also, a few studies conducted on mice have found a link between changes in the endocannabinoid system and alterations on the X chromosome, which is associated with autism development. (3) The most recent study from 2017 also suggested that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for managing neuroinflammation, which is associated with autism in children. (4)
Using cannabis for autism symptoms
Some adults with autism who use cannabis claim it really helps in managing their anxiety and sensory issues. I dug around Reddit and found some interesting comments:
Treating children with cannabis
In a 2015 statement, the Canadian Pediatric Society said: “there is little data to support either the efficacy or safety of cannabis use for any indications in children.”
And in Ontario, doctors have been advised not to prescribe marijuana to patients under 25, unless other options have failed.
But there are many parents, and activists such as Mieko Hester-Perez, who claim to be effectively treating their children’s symptoms of autism with cannabis.
There are many stories from parents who give CBD oil to their children with autism say they notice dramatic reductions in aggressive behavior, outbursts, as well as an improvement in socialization and communication. CBD oil does not contain any THC and is non-psychoactive. The oil is made from industrial hemp and is legal and available almost everywhere.
Best ways to consume cannabis
Using medical marijuana for your symptoms associated with autism doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to light up a joint. Smoking is not the only option to get cannabinoids into your system. Here are some alternatives:
- CBD oils can be used in the form of sprays and drops.
- Edibles are one of the healthiest ways to use weed. There’s just one tricky bit… When consuming cannabis-infused food, it takes much longer to feel the effects compared to smoking (when you can feel the high almost instantly), especially if you chose a THC strain. The digestion process takes some time. The effect of edibles lasts longer, too. There are tons of recipes for homemade cannabis edibles: you can make cupcakes, brownies, smoothies.
- Vaping is also one of the less harmful ways to get high, (or not, depending on the strain you are using). Using vapes you inhale vapor, not smoke. It’s especially suitable for beginners, too.
Finding the best way to consume cannabis requires doing some research on your own. So, patience and a weed-friendly doctor are your two new best friends.
Best strains for autism
Choosing the right strain for any type of medical condition is never an easy task.
Since we are all different with individual needs, some strains might not work for you. So, take time and patience, and stay persistent in finding the best strain for your needs.
Alternatively, you can use Strainblazer to easily browse through more than 400 strains produced by Canada’s ACMPR licensed producers.
Best high CBD strain for autism
Cannabis experts recommend sticking to high CBD strains for managing behavioral issues of autism, as well as seizures.
CBD seems to be particularly helpful in improving communication difficulties and reducing self-harm behavior, hyperactivity and hypersensitivity.
The ultimate medical strain with high CBD levels and almost no psychoactive THC (less than 0.3%). Cannabis breeders The Stanley Brothers developed this strain to help a girl called Charlotte Figi who was suffering from severe epileptic seizures. This strain will not cause psychoactive effects and parents who use it (usually as edibles) for treating their children’s autism symptoms report seeing improvement in appetite and calmness.
Best high THC strains for autism
In some people, the psychoactive effects of high THC strains can increase anxiety. Start slowly until you figure out what works for you.
Very effective for any type of pain, as well as suppressing discomfort. A high THC strain, Blue Dream is great for daytime use when things need to get done.
A perfect strain for people with autism who also suffer from a sleep disorder. Black Bubba calms the body, providing relaxation and mild sedation. That’s why it’s recommended to use it at night when you are at home in your comfy bed.
So many health benefits from this one…it boosts your energy and relaxes the body. When it starts to wear off, it’s gentle on the brain. It provides focus while making social interactions as smooth as possible.
Also a great strain for making socialization an easy process, which can be very tough for people with autism. This is a popular strain for many different conditions since it crushes stress, anxiety, and depression.
This strain calms the body and mind which can make it a great choice to calm racing thoughts. Hindu Kush has many more therapeutic properties, such as reducing pain, depression, and anxiety. People living with autism often tend to have problems with sleep, but this strain can help with that, too.
A very popular medical strain for managing stress, depression, and pain. You can expect a couch lock effect kicking in once you take Northern Lights, while it slowly induces sleep. Great strain for chilling at home after you have finished your day.
If you or your loved one are living with autism, and you are interested in using cannabis for managing symptoms, find a doctor with expertise in medical cannabis who can help you decide how to proceed.
- Aran A, Cassuto H, Lubotzky A; Cannabidiol Based Medical Cannabis in Children With Autism- a Retrospective Feasibility Study (P3.318); Neurology; April 2018; 90 (15 Supplement) P3.318
- Siniscalco D, Sapone A, Giordano C, Cirillo a, De Magistris L, Rossi F, Fasano a, Bradstreet Jj, Maione S, Antonucci N; Cannabinoid Receptor Type 2, but Not Type 1, Is Up-regulated in Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells of Children Affected by Autistic Disorders; Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders; November 2013; 43(11):2686-95
- Földy C, Malenka RC, Südhof TC; Autism-associated neuroligin-3 mutations commonly disrupt tonic endocannabinoid signaling; Neuron; May 2013; 78(3):498-509
- Habib SS, Al-Regaiey K, Bashir S, Iqbal M; Role of Endocannabinoids on Neuroinflammation in Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevention; Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research; June 2017; 11(6):CE01-CE03