If you are reading this article, it may be that you have a friend or loved one with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and you want to learn more about weed and autism. It is possible that you are wondering if cannabis could be helpful. Maybe you have heard it from a friend or read about it on the internet. In this article, we will look some at studies about weed and autism. But first a bit of background information.
Marijuana acts on a network of receptors called the endocannabinoid system, and irregularities in this system have been linked with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in both human and animal studies.
As a result, it is possible that by targeting this system, cannabis can help with symptoms. At the time of writing this, several clinical trials are underway to explore the treatment possibilities of using pot for autism.
This article will cover the research available for caregivers and patients interested in cannabis and autism.
Weed & Autism
Autism spectrum disorder impacts 1 in 66 children in Canada and so marijuana and autism is of interest to many people. Autism is a condition of repetitive behavior, social difficulties and challenges communicating. Anxiety disorders, mood disorders and seizures are also associated with autism.
Using cannabis for kids is an emotional topic for many people. There is no agreement on the safety of using cannabis for kids. There is however a growing body of research.
I want to stress to you, that it is imperative that you do not experiment with treating your child with cannabinoids, CBD or THC until you have spoken with a qualified physician or nurse practitioner.
Autism & CBD Oil Research
There are over 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis. The two most well-known are CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). THC gets people “high” and that is not what we want for children with autism.
CBD oil, however, has been used by parents to treat epilepsy, a condition that can accompany autism. While treating seizures, parents noted improvement in autism symptoms.
In April 2018 Dr. Adi Aran, led a study including 60 children with autism spectrum disorder and concluded that CBD was a promising treatment option. Although this is exciting news, in the world of science and medicine, promising is not good enough. As a result of this good news, a larger study headed up by this Director of the Pediatric Neurology Unit at the Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Israel, was undertaken.
The following spring, Dr. Aran, presented his preliminary findings at the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research in Montreal, Canada. His research showed that medical marijuana extract helped children with their autism. Children treated with marijuana, however, were more likely to have decreased appetite, daytime sleepiness as well as disturbed sleep. He did caution,
“Thousands of parents already are treating their kids with cannabis based on rumors of this study…I don’t want it to be even more…It’s not a miracle treatment. It might be another tool in our toolbox.”
As the recognition of autism expands, more and more children are being diagnosed with mild cases of autism spectrum disorder.
“Personally, I do not believe that it is time for every child with this diagnosis to start using CBD. There are exceptions though. “ Mark Churman, M.D., C.C.F.P.
Over 50% of children with ASD suffer from episodes of self-injury and violence, tantrums, and severe anxiety. As well, 40% of children with ASD, do not respond well to conventional medication and behavioural therapy. (4) At Weedwell, ™ we feel that for families where severe autism affects their daily lives, and when conventional treatments fail, it is reasonable to consider CBD as a treatment option. Especially with weed and autism, it is important that progress be followed closely and well documented by family, teachers, and your care team in order to ensure that benefits outweigh unknown risks.
Some of these tools include the “Caregiver Global Impression of Change” (CGIC), the “Home Situations Questionnaire-PDD version”, the “Autism Parental Stress Index” (APSI)
Dr. Aran’s work has provided some preliminary evidence that cannabis may be helpful for autism, but much more research is needed to prove long term safety and effectiveness. At this time, stories from parents are what most caregivers will find when searching the net about weed for autism. I don’t mean to say that these stories aren’t true or valid, it is just that the scientific community, including doctors tends to demand more controlled clinical trials.
One exciting study that is on the way is of a high-quality design called a “randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, trial”. What this means is that participants are randomly assigned to receive either the medicine being studied, or a placebo with no medicine in it. Neither the child, the parent, or even the investigator knows which child got the real medicine until the results and scores are all in. By doing things this way, we eliminate the placebo effect and ensure that there is no bias in reporting or scoring any change in condition.
In this study 100 children with autism and irritability, between the ages of 5-18 will be given either CBDV, a variant of CBD, or a placebo and monitored for improvement over 12 weeks.
CBD Oil Autism Dosage
There are no official cannabis dosage guidelines for weed and autism and patients and caregivers should consult a doctor before attempting to medicate with cannabis.
In Dr. Aran’s first study, a 20:1 CBD/THC blend of oral cannabis was started at 1mg per kg CBD of body weight per day. So, a 70 pound child would start with 30mgs per day of CBD with about 1.5mg of THC.
This dose could be increased up to 10 times higher than the starting dose if needed. Doses were gradually increased until improvement was noted. At Weedwell(TM), when using cannabis, especially with children, we feel that less is more. We would typically start a child on about half of this starting dose or even less. We believe that there should be no rush to get where we are going and that “starting low and going slow” is the best approach.
We would also want to do a careful review of any other medications our client might be using to check and adjust for possible interactions.
Please note, this is not the place to be experimenting with homemade edibles, or online purchases from illegal sources. Please do not use cannabis in any form to treat your child without the involvement of a physician or nurse practitioner who is comfortable and informed.
Evidence for using cannabis for autism is favorable, though there is still much to learn. Keep following and we will keep you posted. We are looking forward to the results of the next study on weed and autism.
- Kerr DM, Downey L, Conboy M, Finn DP, Roche M. Alterations in the endocannabinoid system in the rat valproic acid model of autism. Behav Brain Res. 2013;249:124–32.
- Siniscalco D, Sapone A, Giordano C, Cirillo A, de Magistris L, Rossi F, et al. Cannabinoid receptor type 2, but not type 1, is up-regulated in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of children affected by autistic disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013;43:2686–95.
- Adi Aran. Speaking at the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research in Montreal, Canada May 2019
- Adi Aran. Presentation notes 3rd Annual medical cannabis conference Tel Aviv Oct 2018.
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV) vs. Placebo in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). NIH. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2018. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03202303.
- Johnson, Jeremy R., Dominique Lossignol, Mary Burnell-Nugent, and Marie T. Fallon. “An open-label extension study to investigate the long-term safety and tolerability of THC/CBD oromucosal spray and oromucosal THC spray in patients with terminal cancer-related pain refractory to strong opioid analgesics.” Journal of pain and symptom management 46, no. 2 (2013): 207-218.
- Kaplan, Joshua S., Nephi Stella, William A. Catterall, and Ruth E. Westenbroek. “Cannabidiol attenuates seizures and social deficits in a mouse model of Dravet syndrome.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 42 (2017): 11229-11234.
- Kruger, Tarah, and Ed Christophersen. “An open label study of the use of dronabinol (Marinol) in the management of treatment-resistant self-injurious behavior in 10 retarded adolescent patients.” Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 27, no. 5 (2006): 433.
- Kurz, René, and Kurt Blaas. “Use of dronabinol (delta-9-THC) in autism: a prospective single-case-study with an early infantile autistic child.” Cannabinoids 5, no. 4 (2010): 4-6.
- Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology 163, no. 7 (2011): 1344-1364.
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