Autism / Aspergers
Updated on May 15, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Medical marijuana can help with disorders like autism or Asperger’s. Since these conditions can cause difficulties with social skills, nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, they can impact your quality of life. Cannabis can treat common symptoms of autism like anxiety and tics. Learn more about autism/Asperger’s, its symptoms and how medical marijuana can help.
How Is Medical Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Autism?
A growing body of positive anecdotal evidence suggests taking cannabis for autism is an effective treatment. Researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. Giovanni Martinez is currently researching treating children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) with CBD (cannabidiol) oil.
In one case, a child who received a twice-daily dose of hemp oil spoke his first words after treatment. In just three weeks, he developed sign language skills after previously being non-verbal. The child in question was once so frustrated about being unable to communicate that he would self-injure. He can now express himself and is happily enjoying life.
Medical marijuana has been known to be a solution to alleviating outbursts of rage, seizures and temper tantrums among autism patients. Cannabis and cannabis-based products such as concentrates and tinctures can be responsible for the lessening of any erratic actions that may have occurred in the past.
Patients who use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms become extremely relaxed and very attentive to what they are doing. Best put, medical marijuana can serve as an exceptional behavioral modification, which can protect both the health and safety of an autistic patient.
Autism Symptoms Treated by Medical Marijuana
Medical pot can be used to treat the seizures, communication problems, a tendency to self-harm, inability to sleep and potentially more. Many patients who receive marijuana daily see improvement in at least one of ASD’s core symptoms, including repetitive behaviors, social communication and language. In most of the cases, things like food acceptance, sensory difficulties, seizures and sleep and feeding disorders also improve.
How to Get Medical Marijuana for Autism
To get medical cannabis for autism, you’ll first need a written recommendation from a physician, if your state has legalized the herb for your autism symptoms. Not all doctors will be willing to provide you with this recommendation, so you’ll want to find a qualified cannabis doctor.
Every state has its own laws about which conditions qualify for medical weed. You may even be required to obtain a medical marijuana ID card before you can begin treatment. Once you receive your written recommendation and ID card, you can then buy your cannabis at a dispensary.
Ways to Use Medical Marijuana for Autism
You focus on health when you’re using cannabis medically. Therefore, you probably don’t want to smoke it. We all know the dangers of smoking, so what are the alternatives? You can take marijuana in various ways, including:
- Vaping: Vaping provides almost instantaneous results. It’s also not as hard on your lungs as smoking.
- Sprays: Cannabis sprays come in a variety of flavors and are easy to carry along with you.
- Tinctures: These alcohol-based extracts can be put into your drinks and food.
- Juices: You can blend up fresh, raw pot leaves with some fruit or vegetable juice. You can drink this wherever you are.
- Edibles: You can buy or make your own edibles like cupcakes and brownies. No matter where you are, these are discrete to eat.
The above methods of using medical marijuana may be right for you if you’re focusing on your health. They eliminate smoke and enable you to try different ways of taking pot so you can find the perfect method for you.
Best Strains of Marijuana for Autism
There are many different strains of medical cannabis for autism available to purchase from dispensaries. Each has its unique effects. To find out what’s best suited to you, it’s a good idea to speak with a knowledgeable budtender or your medical marijuana doctor. Before you do that, you can take a look at this short list for background information.
1. Using Marijuana to Treat Seizures
A worrying and frightening symptom of autism is often having seizures. If these affect you and you don’t want to take conventional medications, the following cannabis strains may work for you:
- Grapefruit Kush: Grapefruit Kush, a hybrid strain, is a cross of Grapefruit and BC Kush. The strain has a fruity taste and may be beneficial for treating seizures and muscle spasms.
- Black Bubba: Black Bubba is an indica strain that’s a cross of Black Russian and Bubba Kush. The strain boasts fruit and pine notes. It should be taken in the evening when you have nothing left to do. The effects of Black Bubba are very relaxing and sedative.
2. Using Marijuana to Improve Relaxation and Communication
When you’re on the autistic spectrum, it’s common to experience communication difficulties as well as an inability to relax. The following strains should offer some relief from these symptoms:
- Chocolope: Chocolope is a highly energizing sativa strain that provides you with an uplifted and blissfully happy experience. You should start off with a small dose to see how you react to Chocolope, as this strain can occasionally cause anxiety. However, it can provide symptom relief when used correctly.
- Blue Dream: Blue Dream is one of the most recognizable strains of pot in the world. It provides a smooth, hybrid experience and is perfect for daytime use. You feel relaxed, creative and happy when you take this strain.
3. Using Marijuana to Treat Sleep Problems
Cannabis is well known for its sedative qualities. There is probably nothing worse for your health than not sleeping. As you sleep, your body has the chance to repair itself. You recharge. If you have autism and are unable to sleep, the following heavy indica strains will do the trick:
- Afghani: The powerful sedative effects of Afghani begin within minutes of taking it. You’ll have a deep, blissful sense of relaxation before falling asleep and awaken refreshed and rejuvenated.
- Northern Lights: Northern Lights is an indica-dominant hybrid and is particularly helpful if medications, pain, anxiety or depression cause your insomnia. It’s best to take this strain an hour or so before bed.
Medical cannabis is worth a try if you feel conventional treatments are just not working for you or you need some additional help treating your symptoms.
Side Effects of Marijuana for Autism
Medical weed can significantly improve your autism symptoms. However, it’s important you know the potential side effects of the herb. While you could experience side effects when using cannabis, when compared with some prescriptions medications, the effects are typically mild and go away once your treatment wears off. Some potential side effects you could experience when using marijuana for autism are:
- Sleepiness: Sleep problems are a common symptom of autism that marijuana’s sedative properties can help with.
- A “high” feeling: You may experience a “high” feeling with marijuana, especially with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) strains.
- Dry mouth: “Cotton mouth” is a common side effect you can ease by drinking fluids.
- Red eyes: This is another common side effect of medical weed you can ease with eye drops.
- Increased hunger: Cannabis often gives you the “munchies,” making you have an insatiable appetite.
When compared with prescription medicines, medical pot treatment can have more benefits and fewer harmful side effects. As researchers conduct more studies on cannabis, more benefits of the herb may be found, thereby making it a more suitable treatment for individuals with autism or any other health condition.
Before starting your marijuana treatment, consult with your cannabis doctor to go over all the potential side effects.
More Information About Marijuana and Autism
Around one in 59 children in the U.S. has received a diagnosis of autism, according to the CDC.
Many parents of children with autism are advocating for medical cannabis to become legal for helping to treat some autism symptoms.
A parent advocacy group, Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA), has a goal to provide all autistic children with legal access to medical cannabis under a doctor’s care. MAMMA’s website lists 10 family testimonials claiming cannabis has greatly helped their children’s autism symptoms.
Now that you know more about the benefits of medical cannabis for autism/Asperger’s for treating your symptoms and improving your quality of life, let’s explore more about autism to help you better manage your condition.
What Is Autism?
Autism is a disorder that relates to neural development. It is best characterized by impaired social interaction, restricted and repetitive behavior and lack of communication skills. The diagnostic criterion claims that symptoms become apparent within a child before they turn three years of age.
Autism directly affects the processing of information in the brain by altering nerve cells and their proper synapses. Asperger syndrome, commonly known as Asperger’s syndrome, is a disorder that lies within the autism spectrum and is best distinguished by significant difficulties in social interaction. Similar to autism in a way, this disorder also involved restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.
Autism, also known as autistic spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions. The word “spectrum” relates to the broad array of challenges you experience when you have the condition. These are typified by difficulties with nonverbal communication, speech, social skills, repetitive behaviors and unique differences and strengths.
By the time a child is two or three years old, autism signs tend to become noticeable. Some diagnoses occur even earlier. Early evaluation and treatment improve your outcome.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association brought together four diagnoses into one umbrella term of autistic spectrum disorder. These conditions include:
- Autistic disorder
- Pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
- Asperger syndrome
Certain mental health and medical conditions may prevail alongside autism. These include:
- Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
- Sleep disturbances
- Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Types of Autism
There are a few types of autism:
- Autistic Disorder (also referred to as “classic” autism): When hearing the term “autism,” this is what most individuals think of. Individuals with autistic disorder usually have communication and social challenges, significant language delays and unusual interests and behaviors. Many with the condition have an intellectual disability.
- Asperger Syndrome: Those with Asperger syndrome normally experience milder symptoms of autism. They may have unusual interests and behaviors and social challenges, but they typically don’t struggle with language problems or intellectual disability.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder (also referred to as “atypical autism”): Individuals who meet certain criteria for Asperger syndrome or autistic disorder but not all criteria might receive a diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder. They often have milder and fewer symptoms than people with autistic disorder. They may experience communication and social challenges.
What Causes Autism?
There isn’t one clear cause of autism, however, it’s generally thought to be caused by brain function or structure abnormalities. Researchers are studying numerous theories, including links among genetics, heredity and medical problems.
There seems to be an autistic pattern or related disabilities in many families which further supports the theory the condition is genetic.
Some researchers are studying the potential for a cluster of unstable genes in certain conditions that could interfere with brain development, leading to autism. Others are researching problems in pregnant women or during delivery.
Then there’s the potential for environmental factors like metabolic imbalances, viral infections and exposure to chemicals.
Autism does tend to develop more often than expected in people with certain medical conditions like tuberous sclerosis, fragile X-syndrome, untreated phenylketonuria (PKU) and congenital rubella syndrome.
Project Autism provides a detailed look at the history, origin and timeline of autism. The word autism derives from the Greek word “autos,” meaning “self.” The condition was first described by Dr. John Langdon Down in 1887 as “developmental retardation.” In 1943, American Leo Kanner researched people with emotional and social limitations and withdrawn behavior. In 1944, Austrian doctor Johann “Hans” Friedrich Karl Asperger did similar research. Early names for the condition included Kanner’s syndrome and, later, Early Infantile Autism. Asperger later termed it Asperger syndrome.
According to Autism Speaks, autism can result in intellectual disabilities and is more prevalent in boys:
- A third of autistic people are nonverbal.
- A third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
- One in 68 U.S. children has autism. This is broken down into one in 189 girls and one in 42 boys.
Symptoms and Side Effects of Autism
People with autistic spectrum disorders tend to engage in repetitive behaviors, have social interaction problems and encounter communication challenges. Symptoms and their severity widely vary as ASD is a spectrum disorder.
1. Repetitive Behaviors With Autism
A core symptom of autism is a tendency to engage in a restricted range of activities and/or unusual repetitive behaviors. It’s common to:
- Rock back and forth
- Arrange and rearrange objects
- Repeat phrases or sounds
You may be preoccupied with putting your household objects in a fixed order or in specific places. You might need your daily routine and environment to be incredibly consistent, without any changes. In the case of anything being different, you’ll feel extremely stressed and may be prone to outbursts.
You may develop all-encompassing obsessions and interests. You could have a huge interest in science, numbers, dates or symbols.
2. Social Challenges With Autism
Developing babies are very social. In contrast, autistic children have social difficulties. At around eight to ten months, many babies with the condition won’t respond to their names, are disinterested in people and have delayed speech. By the time they’re toddlers, they’ll probably have trouble playing social games and will prefer to be on their own. They might not respond to parental displays of affection or anger.
An autistic person can’t pick up easily or quickly on social cues. They may be unable to see things from someone else’s perspective. They might be unable to understand other people’s feelings and to interpret gestures.
Frustration could lead to injury by engaging in:
3. Communication Difficulties With Autism
When you have autism, you may consistently repeat what someone else has said or say the same words and phrases over and over. Mildly affected individuals may have huge vocabularies and enjoy carrying on monologues about their favorite subjects.
People with autism may be unable to understand expressions that aren’t designed to be taken literally. Being unable to comprehend the tone of voice and body language is a prevailing symptom.
Current Treatments Available for Autism and Their Side Effects
If you think you might have ASD, experts encourage an early diagnosis for the best treatment outcome. You can reduce difficulties and focus on your strengths with proper care. There is no single best treatment as every autistic individual is different. Some methods of treatment include the following.
1. Medication to Treat Autism
Your doctor may prescribe you medication to help with:
- Attention problems
- Repetitive behavior
All medications come with the risk of side effects. For example, antipsychotic medications cause sedation and extreme lethargy. Perhaps this is why more people turn to natural methods like medical marijuana to treat their symptoms.
2. Behavioral and Educational Interventions to Treat Autism
Intensive skill-oriented training sessions, such as sensory integration therapy, floor time, behavior modification and pivotal response training, can help you overcome difficulties. You may also be offered family therapy.
Learn More About How You Can Obtain Medical Marijuana for Autism
Many people are now turning to medical cannabis to manage their autism because it is very effective and doesn’t come with the harsh side effects that traditional medication causes.
If you or someone close to you is searching for a way to relieve the symptoms of autism, it’s time to take that next step. Search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today to find out more about cannabis and autism. Take back control of your health and improve your quality of life.
Find out how medical cannabis could help treat autism. Get treatment options and patient reviews on local doctors from Marijuana Doctors.