Autism – also called Asperger’s disease – is a mental condition marked by severe impairment of social and communication function. Autistic people often engage in routines and habits that seem to have no significance or serve no outward function. Nevertheless, patients tend to be very rigid about these “rituals”, and they can be very upset when these routines are disturbed.
Patients with Asperger’s may benefit greatly from controlled use of medical marijuana. In some cases, patients were better able to deal with social situations, and even experienced reduced depression. Some patients also experienced less frequent and less severe mood swings, and better control over their emotional extremes.
Research on medical marijuana and autism is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, some parents use marijuana for autism in the form of CBD, and a few even give their severely autistic children THC and/or THCA to manage their children’s intense and debilitating symptoms.
After 20 years of steady growth, autism is now the fastest-growing developmental disorder, with 1 in 59 children affected. Around 40% of autistic kids do not speak, while 25%-30% have some vocabulary between 12 to 18 months of age, only to mysteriously lose it. Others eventually speak later in childhood. Over half of autistic children are classified as having an intellectual disability or borderline intellectual disability, with boys being four times more likely to have autism than girls. It is a highly individual disorder, with no two autistic people alike.1
Medical Marijuana and Autism Research
The difficulty in treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be severely compounded, because it is quite common for doctors and parents to have to treat more than just autism. Autism is often accompanied by one or more other disorders or diseases, such as gastrointestinal and digestive disorders and bowel disease. Eating, sleeping, anxiety, bipolar, immune and autoimmune disorders are all also associated with autism, along with ADHD, Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), neuroinflammation, epilepsy, and more.1
An Israeli study instigated by parents of children with severe ASD took place, with parents being given cannabis oil to administer to their kids. The study began with 188 ASD patients; after six months, 155 patients continued treatment. Of this group, 93 parents responded to the questionnaire, with 28 reporting a significant improvement, 50 reporting moderate improvement, and 6 with a slight improvement. Eight parents reported no change in condition. Most of the patients were treated with cannabis oil containing 30% CBD and 1.5% THC.2
In another Israeli study, 60 children with autism were given oral CBD/THC at a 20:1 ratio. At the end of the study, the researchers reported that behavioral problems were much improved or very much improved in 61% of the children. Communication problems and anxiety were much or very much improved in a significant number of patients as well, and disruptive behaviors were also improved in some. Parents also reported being less stressed, leaving researchers stating that the study supported CBD as being a promising treatment option, so much so that based on the results, the researchers decided to launch a double-blind, placebo controlled cross-over trial with 120 autism patients.3
A Chilean study involving 21 ASD children that had not responded well to traditional treatments yielded similar encouraging results. In this study, the cannabis extracts proved to be considerably more effective than conventional medicines used, including atypical antipsychotics, and overall they were well-tolerated. 71.4% of the patients showed significant improvements in at least one of the symptoms of social interaction, language or repetitive behaviors, and 66.7% showed significant general overall improvement. As with the Israeli study, researchers were encouraged and optimistic enough to plan clinical trials.4
There was even an open, single-case study done using dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC. A six-year-old autistic boy was given dronabinol and no other therapies for six months. At the end of six months, the patient had significantly improved in the areas of irritability, hyperactivity, lethargy, stereotypical behavior and inappropriate speech.5
Thinking of Trying Marijuana for Autism?
Although cannabis and autism haven’t been well-studied and larger clinical trials are needed, many parents report great success with CBD products. Others, as was noted earlier, have found they needed to add a small amount of THC before they observed much difference. Others have begun using another non-psychoactive cannabinoid, THCA, to help manage their children’s symptoms. Some have found that a combination of THCA and THC were the most helpful.5
Of course, this is all anecdotal, and what works well for one child may not work for another. But cannabis has been found in some studies to alleviate many of the same diseases and disorders that often accompany autism.
If you want to try cannabis for your child, whether CBD, THC , THCA, or some combination, the best way to get started is by finding and working with a cannabis-literate physician. He or she can guide you and take much of the guesswork out of the equation, as well as help you navigate the legalities. Which state you live in will dictate much regarding what you can legally give your child, so check out our map to find out the legalities in your state.
- Autism Fact Sheet. National Autism Association.
- Bar-Lev Schleider, L., Mechoulam, R., Saban, N. et al. Real life Experience of Medical Cannabis Treatment in Autism: Analysis of Safety and Efficacy. Sci Rep 9, 200 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-37570-y
Cannabidiol Based Medical Cannabis in Children with Autism- a Retrospective Feasibility Study (P3.318).
- Zelda Therapeutics Reveals Successful Results Treating Autism with Medical Marijuana. Analytical Cannabis (2017).
- Kurz, R., & Blaas, K.R. (2010). Use of dronabinol (delta-9-THC) in autism: A prospective single-case-study with an early infantile autistic child. http://irka.org.rs/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Use-of-dronabinol-delta-9-THC-in-autism.pdf