How effective medical marijuana is in treating autism?

December 04, 2018

By Nancy R. Fernandez

Legalization of Medical Marijuana in many countries has triggered a number of research projects aiming at discovering the healing properties of cannabis. Some researched have supported that Medical Marijuana heals many serious ailments like HIV/AIDS, cancer, etc(NCBI). But recent research has revealed that marijuana has the potential to cure many other ailments like asthma, epilepsy and even autism. In this article, we shall see how effective medical marijuana is in treating autism.

What is Autism?


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder which affects various aspects of a person’s life, especially social and emotional life. Autism Spectrum Disorder is often in early childhood characterized by abnormally less social interaction and emotional expression. In severe forms, patients also exhibit aggressive behaviour and also seizures.

According to statistics, one among fifty-nine children in the United States suffers from autism(CDC) and almost one per cent of the world’s population has Autism Spectrum Disorder(CDC). It also becomes a financial burden for the family. In addition to this, managing the patients is also very difficult.

Related article: 5 benefits of Medical Cannabis for a Parkinson patient

There is no known cure for autism and all that one can do is manage its symptoms. At present, FDA has approved antipsychotics like risperidone and aripiprazole to administer on Autism patients. Other modes of treatments also include family and behavior therapy, anger management and animal-assisted therapy. But the discovery of medical marijuana and the possibility of clearing your mind through it has given a ray of hope to the families of the patients of autism.

What is the Dilemma?


The problem of medical marijuana and its use for treating autism is like that of the hen-and-the egg. Doctors do not prescribe marijuana for treating autism because there is not much empirical evidence to support the positive relationship. Researchers refrain from studying the issue because of the fears of testing cannabis, chiefly due to its active compounds that may cause unpredictable behavior in children. However, there are many pieces of anecdotal evidence hinting at a positive relationship between the two.

How does Medical Marijuana help treat autism?


There are many pieces of researches that come up with promising outcomes. We now know at least a little by means of such projects. Here are some of the results: 

  1. CB2 Receptor help in Autism: A study by Dr Dario Siniscalco has found out that certain compounds like CB2 receptor, found in Cannabis may help in managing Autism. (NCBI)

  2. Modifications in Endocannabinoid system: Endocannabinoid is basically some chemical compounds that the body naturally produces. This is like the natural, inbuilt cannabis producing system in the human body. A research by Dr... Csaba Foldy in association with Stanford University Medical School has found that some alterations in the endocannabinoid system contribute to improving the symptoms of autism. (NCBI)

  3. Marijuana Improves Autistic Symptoms: Medical Marijuana improves symptoms like anxiety, aggression, tantrums, destruction of things around, rage and chiefly, self-injuring behaviour, according to the study by Autism Research Institute. (

  4. Compounds in Cannabis treats behavioural issues in autistic patients: Dr Daniele Piomelli and team has discovered that some chemicals found in Cannabis help to treat behavioral issues in autistic children and also in children with Fragile X syndrome. (NCBI)

  5. Magical effects of Anandamide: Dr Daniele has also found out that a specific chemical called Anandamide has the power to treat the symptoms of autism, by controlling social reward. This is a combination of drug and behavioural therapy in order to help autistic patients get better at social interaction. Anandamide and a few other chemicals in Cannabis help control the drop in the level of endocannabinoids in the nervous system to boost its activity in order to stimulate normal social activity. (NCBI).

  6. Managing Epilepsy: Epilepsy is one of the most common and serious conditions that autism causes. Certain compounds found in cannabis like cannabidiol help to reduce conditions that lead to epilepsy. (NCBI)

What are the associated risks?


Before parents order weed online to help treat their autistic children, they need to be completely aware of the risks that come with Cannabis treatment for Autism. Here are a few arguments that opponents of medical marijuana for children put forward in their defence, which aren’t really false, but there is no strong evidence to support either.
  1. Psychotic Properties: Marijuana has a few compounds that have psychotic properties that may cause many side effects in autistic children ranging from mild symptoms to more sleep and further retarded functioning to more serious problems like unpredictable behaviors.

  2. Cannabis Treatment messes up with the endocannabinoid system: Endocannabinoid system is a naturally balanced system to calm the brain and the nervous system. The opponents to medical marijuana argue that artificial treatments meddle with this natural and sensitive endocannabinoid system, which may become a health risk after a period of time.

  3. Possibility of Addiction: Doses, even if managed properly may sometimes lead to addiction in children, making their behaviour more unpredictable (sometimes even aggressive). This need not be just a psychological addiction, it may also turn to biological addiction. So, doses need to be carefully monitored. (NCBI)

  4. Lack of Expertise of Parents: Dosages of Cannabis must be very carefully monitored because even a small amount of variation, especially if it is more than the prescribed amount, can have many side effects. For this, the parents of autistic children should receive extensive and proper training and the medical professionals should carefully monitor the administration until they are able to manage it by themselves.

  5. Unpredictability: Pharmaceutical medicines have a clear list of the active compounds that they contain. But, when it comes to plants, there are much more things to discover and learn about. Lack of knowledge and research can increase the uncertainty of the effects of medical marijuana on the health of the child. So, much more research and extensive studies are needed in this area.


In spite of all the doubts that we may have about medical marijuana, more and more parents are advocating for allowing the administration of medical marijuana for their autistic children, as the symptoms improve. It is worth noting that one can indeed reduce the side-effects and potential risks if he/she takes utmost care in the administration of the medicine. Let’s just hope that more research projects come up in this direction to help the people suffering from autism and make their lives better. 

About the Author: Nancy is a blogger who loves to write especially in the Cannabis vertical. She has written many informative blogs in other verticals too.