Sharon worried about her son Benjamin. Benjamin’s autism caused him to bang his head against the wall, throw violent tantrums, and dash out into busy streets. Sharon had tried conventional drugs, some of which caused harmful side effects, with little success. She was hesitant when she heard about medical marijuana as an autism treatment, but didn’t know what else to do for her son.
She contacted a doctor in Jerusalem, Dr. Adi Aran, and begged for her son to be treated as part of a trial on the effects of cannabis on autism. Dr. Aran agreed and gave Sharon a prescription for a strain of Israeli cannabis oil.
Many parents of children with autism have turned to medical marijuana or CBD oil as a way to keep their children safe and alleviate some of the more severe symptoms of autism: self-harm, violence, uncontrollable rage. Many claim that despite trying other treatments, their children have found relief only with medical marijuana.
New trails beginning in New York and California will seek to definitely prove or disprove the benefit of CBD on the symptoms of autism, and if there is a demonstrable benefit, these trails may pave the way for wider access in the US.
CBD is a cannabinoid, one of the chemical compounds found in marijuana, that calms and relaxes the brain. It does not cause people to become high; it’s THC, another cannabinoid, that causes the high associated with marijuana use. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that CBD is safe, non-psychoactive, non-habit forming, and may be an effective treatment for seizures, epilepsy, and other conditions.
Scott Badesch, President of the Autism Society of America, told High Times that he’s heard from many parents about the benefits of medical marijuana in alleviating the more extreme symptoms of autism. In fact, he said he’s never had a parent report that administering medical marijuana hasn’t helped their child.
But not every American parent who wants to try medical marijuana can.
The laws around marijuana use in the United States are complicated at best. Many states have legalized recreational use. As of early 2018, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use, and by the end of 2018, eight states will allow recreational use. But marijuana use is still illegal at the federal level, and there is not a distinction, at least not a clear one, between marijuana in general and CBD.
The new large-scale US trials may make all the difference in changing the laws, and the stigma, around medical marijuana.
Dr. Eric Hollander will lead the trial examining the effects of the cannabinoid CBDV on children with autism. CBDV is derived from the cannabis plant and is similar to CBD in both its chemical composition and its effects. The study will take place over three years and involve youth with autism from five to 18 years old. Half of the group will receive a placebo and the other half CBDV.
The second major study, led by Dr. Doris Trauner, will take place at UC San Diego and include 30 children between ages eight and 12. Dr. Trauner’s study will test the effectiveness of CBD, and again, half the participants will receive a placebo.
These large, well-funded studies could make a difference in the accessibility of medical marijuana and its derivatives to the autism community. Parents and researchers are looking for a definitive answer: Does marijuana help children with autism, and if so, how?
Scott Badesch (President of the Autism Society of America) is hoping for more clarity. “We want scientific research so that a parent and a doctor can say ‘ok, here’s what the research shows,’” he says.
Parents have reported that their children have shown reduced signs of anxiety, less aggression, and renewed interest in socializing after using medical marijuana.
These two major American studies could have a big impact on the future of medical marijuana. The hope is that these studies will help separate fact from fiction and definitively prove or disprove the potential of medical marijuana and its derivatives (such as CBD and CBDV) as a treatment for autism symptoms.
As for Sharon and Benjamin, they’ve already decided. Sharon reports that after a couple weeks of receiving the CBD prescription, her son was able to sit still and make eye contact, and his teachers recommended that he move to a standard classroom instead of a special needs classroom. “It’s like a miracle,” Sharon says, “I can leave the house and go out with him and not worry. I can breathe.”
It may still be years before the results of the study are published, and longer until medical marijuana or CBD is widely available for those who may benefit. Those who think medical marijuana may benefit their family would be well advised to look into their state’s laws to see what’s legal. We’ll all be waiting to hear the final world on the potential of the cannabis plant for the autism community.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.