Individual success stories are not enough to base a medical theory upon, especially when it involves children. However, strong anecdotal stories and some early research into using medical marijuana to help their autistic children is causing a stir. Not to mislead here, there is no significant research about symptoms of autism being treated by cannabis. Well, “not yet” some may say.
Autism, more specifically referred to as autism spectrum disorder, ASD, is a range of symptoms and degrees of disability. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder, related to the growth and development of the brain. Typical symptoms are impaired communication and social interactions as well as singularly focused or repetitive behaviors. As many as one in 68 American children are diagnosed with ASD. Boys are five times more likely to be diagnosed.
Autism is believed to be caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. There is no known cure. Parents typically help the child through speech therapies and behavior interventions. One type of behavior training, discrete trial training, includes behavioral prompts, modeling and positive reinforcement for several hours a day. Research has shown that it can have profound affect for children under five years old.
Some advocate for a better understanding of autism culture, respect for neurodiversity and a focus on teaching coping skills over imitation of neurotypical people.
Because this is a brain disorder affecting the processing of information, some scientists believe that manipulating cannabinoids, the active chemicals in marijuana, could have positive effect. CB2 receptors, our innate or endogenous receiver of cannabinoids and are distributed throughout the body.
Researchers found protein levels of CB2 were to be much higher in autistic children, concluding “our data indicate CB2 receptor as potential therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of the autism care.”
Another finding from researchers from California and France, showed that increasing cannabinoid transmitters in the brain can help correct issues related to the most common genetic cause of autism.
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As has been seen for other conditions, there are passionate parents and advocates who are not willing to wait for research. Families have claimed that some children have experienced significant reduction in symptoms such as self-harming behavior, eating disorders and anxiety. Some have even taken great legal risks to conduct these at home experiments in hope of helping their kids lead a healthier, happier life.
Grassroots advocates like Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism and individuals like Mieko Hester-Perez, who has gained some notoriety for her success story in treating her autistic son with cannabis, are excellent examples. They tell compelling stories of dramatic, life altering changes due to the herb. They stand ready to challenge the status quo and advocate for access to medical marijuana while calling for additional research.
This is promise for some connection, but there are no studies to point to with big data that would infer that marijuana will be a game changer. No state currently lists autism spectrum disorder as a qualifying condition to use cannabis. Is there a proven connection between marijuana and autism spectrum disorder? Some would say simply, “not yet.”