According to statistics gathered by the Autism Society, one in every 59 children born in the United States has autism and more than 3.5 million Americans suffer from autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In recent years, people have been turning to cannabis to manage certain medical conditions, including neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. Is medical marijuana really effective in helping manage the effects of autism?
What is autism?
Autism Society defines ASD as a complex developmental disability characterized by a certain set of behaviors and as a “spectrum condition” affecting individuals to varying degrees and differently. Typically, the signs manifest during early childhood and affect one’s ability to communicate and to interact with other people.
Autism has no known single cause. However, early diagnosis and intervention, increased awareness, and access to appropriate supports and treatments can significantly improve outcomes.
Signs and behaviors that are associated with autism and that parents should look out for include the following:
– difficulty making eye contact
– lack of or delay in learning spoken language
– repetitive use of language
– difficulty holding a conversation
– poor motor skills
– repetitive motor mannerisms, such as hand-flapping and twirling objects
– difficulty with executive functioning, which is related to planning and reasoning
– narrow yet intense interests
– poor sensory sensitivities
– lack of interest in peer relationships
– lack of make-believe or spontaneous play
– persistent fixation on certain objects
A person on the spectrum might follow a few or many of these behaviors, or some other behaviors besides these.
ASD diagnosis is applied based on the analysis of all these behaviors and their severity.
Is autism treatable?
While there is no known cure for autism, it is very treatable. Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention can lead to significantly improved outcomes.
Treatment generally focuses on managing behavior combined with behavior therapy, sensory processing, anger management, and animal-assisted therapy.
There is no pharmaceutical drug that addresses autism’s three core characteristics: difficulty in communication, social challenges, and repetitive and self-injurious behavior. However, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two drugs for the treatment of autism-related irritability: aripiprazole and antipsychotics risperidone. These drugs are rife with side effects, though, such as nausea, weight gain, vomiting, and constipation.
It should also be noted that irritability is just a little part of it. People who are on the spectrum often suffer from accompanying conditions like gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, and sleep disorders. And these conditions could fall under what qualify for medical cannabis prescription in legal states.
Cannabis and autism
A growing number of people are turning to cannabis for treatment of conditions and symptoms associated with autism. The problem is the same with any other cannabis-treatable conditions, though, and that is the lack of research. No clinical studies have been conducted in the U.S. yet with regard to the effectiveness of using cannabis to help in the treatment of autism.
What exists, for now, are the many anecdotal accounts and success stories.
So, until more studies can support the use of cannabis on autism, parents can only try using it to help with the accompanying conditions of autism.