Could Cannabis Offer New Hope to Autistic Children?

Why keeping medicinal cannabis illegal could be hindering life changing autism research

  • Anecdotal evidence of success stories with cannabis treatment for autism is coming from parents across the world
  • Israel has just launched a revolutionary new study testing effects of medicinal cannabis on 120 autistic participants
  • CBD, the non-psychoactive seems to be the most effective cannabinoid in treatment
  • Cannabis research in the UK is severely restricted due to its illegality

Can cannabis based medicines really have to potential to be used as an effective alternative treatment for autism? Israeli scientists certainly seem to think so.

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center is launching a pioneering new trial looking into medicinal marijuana’s effect on autistic people. 120 different people, ranging from low to moderate functioning autism, spanning in age from 4 years old to 30, will partake in the innovative new trial.

“There are over 700,000 people in UK who are on the autistic spectrum”

The trial was launched by Dr Adi Aran, head of the paediatric neurology department at Shaare Zedek, on the back of the success of prior research into cannabinoids and epilepsy.

Dr Aran found in a previous, smaller, trial that administering cannabinoid extracts to 70 young people suffering from both epilepsy and were on the autistic spectrum had positive results. Researchers found that the cannabinoid compound helping the autistic children with their epilepsy was also helping to reduce some of the symptoms of autism as well.

Despite hundreds, if not thousands, of anecdotal cases being reported from across the globe, this will be the world’s first clinical trial looking specifically into the potential medical marijuana can have on the symptoms of autism.

Discussing the popularity of the decision to launch the trail in an interview with The Israel Times, Dr Aran said: “Our waiting lists are full.

“Many, many families want to participate and they come from all over Israel. They hope and they heard from their friends and other families that it might help.”

It’s not just families in Israel that are desperate to try medical cannabis as an alternative for their autistic children’s pharmaceutical medication. Parents and activists from across the world have been calling out for more research to done be conducted.

One of the loudest protest has been coming from, perhaps unsurprisingly, America. MAMMA (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism) was set up in 2014 by parents campaigning for autism to be recognised as a qualifying condition for the medicinal herb.

Due to the shocking lack of research on MMJ’s effect on autism, advocacy group have been forced to rely heavily on anecdotal testimonials to support their case. That is not to say these do not make compelling arguments.

Miko Perez went on national TV in America to tell the world about how cannabis had “saved” her autistic’ sons life. Appearing on ABC News, the courageous mother explained how medicated brownies helped to reduce some of the more severe symptoms of autism her 10-year-old son, Joey.

Mark Zatler’s videos on his daughter’s progress with cannabis for her severe autism has captured the imagination of the world. Posting videos showing the immediate effect of MMJ on Kara’s actue symptoms of autism, such as a reduction in her uncontrollable self-harming, makes more than a compelling argument for more research to be conducted on the natural treatment.

One of the most persuasive arguments for allowing autistic children to try cannabinoid medication opposed to pharmaceutical medication is the adverse side-effects the latter can have on the child.

Currently affecting around 1 in every 68 children in the US, rates of the condition are becoming increasing common. There are only two prescription medications presently approved for the treatment of Autism; both being ‘antipsychotic medications’.

Essentially what these medications do is tranquilize the child, dulling their personalities. The pharmaceuticals that these children are subjected to are riddled with adverse side-effects which can actually make some of the symptoms of autism worse. Autistic children experience difficulties with social interactions and communication; these powerful antipsychotic medications have been reported to cause extreme sedation and lethargy, which does not help the child improve their interactions with other children.

Medicinal marijuana, on the other hand, has been reported by parents to allow their autistic children to be themselves, to live a more normal childhood. Parents and relatives of autistic children have long made claims that cannabis helps calm their child down, making them less stressed and less likely to hurt themselves, while not leaving them drugged-up zombies. If we can allow a child the decency of a normal childhood, even enhance their childhood, is it not our duty to at least look into this possibility?

While Israel is undertaking the world’s first clinical trial into MMJ and autism, there are some recent studies into the possibility of treating the illness with cannabis. Recent research on autism actually showed that deficiencies in our endocannabinoid system may play a major role in some forms of autism.

While we do not know exactly how cannabis helps autistic children, we do know that it is helping them.

There are over 700,000 people in UK who are on the autistic spectrum, meaning there are 2.8m people who have a relative on the autism spectrum. This means we have 700,000 reasons to allow more research and clinical trials looking into cannabis’ effect on autism in the UK.

We know very little about which cannabinoid will work best for treating the more acute symptoms of autism. Some seem to respond best to a mix of THC and CBD, such as Zara Katler. Others, such as Dr Aran, seem to think that CBD is the main cannabinoid to focus on; as his study will use 20:1 CBD-THC strains and tinctures. Without more research, we will remain ignorant; without more research, more autistic children will be left to suffer at the hands of pharmaceutical medication. It’s time to step up and put the needs of our most vulnerable at the head of society!

Have you treated your autistic child with medical cannabis? Do you think more research into autism and MMJ is needed in the UK? Let us know in the comments!

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