Autism and Medical Marijuana

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By: Katie Finkle

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is an extremely common disorder, with an estimated 1 in 59 children diagnosed in the United States currently. However, Autism (also referred to as ASD), presents in a wide range of subtypes, accompanied by a variety of different sensory sensitivities, medical issues, and mental health issues. Despite the complexities, there are a variety of ways that medical marijuana can help patients with autism achieve their best possible quality of life. 

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that refers to a broad range of conditions that are characterized by difficulties or differences in behavior and/or communication. Again, the range of behaviors in communication is huge, ranging from high functioning day-to-day living while having difficulties with social cues, to non-verbal functioning requiring full-time care. There is no one true form of autism, and though the way it presents may vary greatly, there are still many ways that individuals can be supported to make their day-to-day life as manageable and enjoyable as possible. 

Autism diagnosed in early childhood; it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months of age, and signs and symptoms commonly present themselves via developmental delays between the ages of 2-4. As previously mentioned, Autism may prevent itself very differently from patient to patient, and requires lengthy and detailed evaluations to properly diagnose. Though there are common symptoms, they can also vary. Socially, Autism may present though avoiding physical contact and eye contact, not understanding the emotions of themselves or others, and difficulty with social integration. Communicatively, patients with Autism may have delayed speech and language skills, not recognizing sarcasm or joking, atypical speech patterns and tone of voice, and not using or responding to common gestures. Common behaviors of individuals with autism include repetitive body movements (i.e. rocking, flapping, spinning), hyperactivity, short attention span, aggressive behaviors with themselves and others, ritualistic behaviors and getting upset when these are disrupted, hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch, and hyperfixation on certain topics or activities. 

As previously mentioned, Autism is often accompanied by other medical issues. Some of these include gastrointestinal disorders, epilepsy, ADHD, OCD, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. Despite all the varying issues that are a part of and accompany Autism, there are still a variety of therapies and treatments available so that individuals with ASD can enjoy their best possible lives.

How Does Medical Marijuana Help?

There are still ongoing clinical trials to understand the ways that medical marijuana can help patients with autism. With that in mind, there is so much variety in marijuana products, that medical marijuana has a great deal of potential to help people with ASD in a number of ways. One of the most significant ways that medical marijuana helps patients with autism is by targeting the medical issues that individuals with ASD often suffer from. Almost all of the previously mentioned medical issues are treatable with medical marijuana. Most commonly, ASD patients and/or their caregivers use medical marijuana to treat accompanying conditions like epilepsy, sleep disorders, and anxiety (just to name a few). Being able to tackle accompanying conditions in patients with autism is just one way that can help make their daily lives easier and more enjoyable. 

Specifically with autism, medical marijuana has demonstrated an ability to help in behavioral and social areas. In strains and products with calming effects (specifically calming cannabinoids and terpenes), it can help with aggressive behaviors and outbursts, as well as tics. Similarly, certain strains and products can help with improving sociability and/or curbing social anxieties. 

Part of the beauty of medical marijuana is the very many different forms that it comes in. With different progressions of Autism, both verbal and non-verbal communication can be greatly impaired, so some products may be more difficult for patients to use. Similarly, because many patients with ASD are children, it’s understandable if parents and caregivers feel less comfortable with certain products. If patients and/or caregivers of patients (especially for children) aren’t comfortable with certain products (i.e. vaporizers or dry leaf), there are also capsules, softgels, tinctures, and ingestible oils that may be easier to use for some patients. Similarly, there are products that are high in CBD, which is not only has an abundance of medical properties that can target different areas of concern in autistic patients, but is also non-psychoactive.

People with Autism, regardless of their age, regardless of the progression of their disorder, deserve to have the same chance at reaching their highest quality of living as anyone else. At Keystone, we can only strive further to make our facilities as comfortable an environment for patients with autism and their caregivers as possible. As research continues and more information is brought out, ideally we will be able to uncover more ways that medical marijuana can benefit patients with autism. At the moment though, there are still a wide array of options, so we can do our best to help every patient.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed for accuracy by the FDA. As always, seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers when considering trying a new treatment. Do not start or stop taking any medications without speaking to your doctor first.

About the Author
Katie Finkle

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