Medical Cannabis, Autism, and the Transformation of Medicine
In 1987, during my freshman year at Lehigh University, our first English assignment was to write a letter to an elected official advocating for a controversial issue of our choosing. I decided to write my United States Congressman to express why I believed marijuana should be legalized. What was supposed to be a 3-4 page paper evolved into 11 pages, with each fact properly cited. I argued that people would be less likely to get marijuana laced with pesticides or other toxins; it could be taxed to generate much-needed revenues for the government; it would lower the crime rate and the overall cost to society. Besides being the most popular paper in the class, I received my first ‘A’ in college!
Over the next 20 years, I collaborated with parents to develop individualized treatment protocols using mostly natural products. The goal was to help children with autism, and subsequently, many other chronic medical conditions. Parents would ask me (or tell me) about tests and treatments of which they learned. I began attending and eventually lecturing at conferences sponsored by the Autism Research Institute. The ability to one day be able to legally order medical cannabis for children was never something I considered becoming a reality.
Incorporating Cannabis into Medical Treatment Plans
Fast forward to 2016, when Florida passed its first medical cannabis law, which allowed for the use of liquid and capsule form cannabidiol (CBD) for people with cancer, muscle spasms, and seizures. Since quite a few of my patients with autism had either seizures or tic-like movem ents that included muscle spasms, I became a cannabis certifying physician, so I could provide additional treatments for qualified patients. From there I began treating patients with CBD and quickly saw clinical improvements. Reduction of anxiety and/or irritability were soon being reported. Kids were sleeping better. Some children stopped stimming. Tics improved. We were definitely on to something.
But not all children improved, and in 2017, “regular” cannabis, containing 9-delta Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) became available. THC is what causes the euphoric/psychoactive effect typically associated with marijuana use.
Improvements to Medical Cannabis Laws
Under the new law, licensed physicians who become certified by the State are able to authorize qualified patients to receive medical cannabis; this includes children, as long as a second doctor agrees. Certified doctors can also now authorize cannabis use for patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions similar to those listed in the statute, such as PTSD, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s, etc.
With the new law in place, I quickly concluded that, similar to patients with PTSD, many people with autism suffer similarly debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and aggressive behaviors. Others had difficulty speaking, as is common in people with Parkinson’s disease, or had chronic abdominal issues similar to those associated with Crohn’s disease. With fully-informed parental consent, the parents/caregivers are allowed to purchase, possess, and administer medical cannabis to the children.
To be clear, very minimal research has been conducted on the use of cannabis in children. There are concerns about memory and cognitive function, especially when a developing brain is exposed to THC. It is critical that parents take into account the potential benefits and risks, as well as the alternatives when deciding on any treatment for a child. Doing nothing is one alternative, but for most families, that is not an option. Pharmacological intervention is often considered. However, many families tell me that they are considering medical cannabis because other medications either didn’t work well enough or brought unacceptable side effects. Some also say that they are uncomfortable placing their child on specific prescription medications because of the reported side effects.
Pediatric Medical Cannabis
As one of the first board-certified pediatricians in the State of Florida to specialize in pediatric cannabis therapy, I am relatively sure I have certified more children for medical cannabis treatment than any other doctor in Florida. Every day at my clinic I hear about another child whose life is improved and whose entire family has benefited because of medical cannabis.
For out-of-state families, I provide educational consultations, where I consult on how to put together a protocol to optimize the use of medical cannabis. When requested, I also help families shop online if they tell me the dispensaries/products that are available to them.
As I look back over this 30-year journey, I am amazed how far we have come. I look forward to hearing many more amazing and inspiring stories about people with autism and other qualifying conditions whose lives have been transformed with medical cannabis.
CBD Oil and Autism: What Parents Need to Know
CBD oil is becoming an increasingly popular treatment option for a variety of health conditions – including autism. But is CBD oil a safe autism treatment for kids?
Autism is a neurological disorder impacting social skills and development. It affects one in 40 American children today, according to a December 2018 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many children with autism have difficulty interacting with others, and some display unusual patterns of behavior like ritualistic motions. Individual cases of autism fall on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe.
Doctors don’t know the cause of autism, but environmental and genetic factors may play a role. There’s also no cure for autism; however, a variety of interventions (like occupational and speech therapies) can lessen the severity of symptoms. One of the newest and most controversial treatment options is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a natural substance extracted from cannabis.
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CBD oil is made without large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical that’s responsible for the psychedelic effects of marijuana – so it can’t technically get you “high.” It has become widely available in health food stores and medical marijuana dispensaries across the country – usually in liquid, cream, or gel capsule form.
In preliminary studies, CBD oil has been shown to improve a variety of physical and mental health conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, ADHD, gastrointestinal illness, insomnia, cancer, and more. And in an April 2018 study of 60 children published in Neurology, a group of Israeli researchers found that CBD oil reduced autism-induced behavioral, communication, and anxiety problems.
Parents across the country have hopped on these findings and starting giving CBD oil to their children. Many claim CDB oil helps regulate emotions, promote better sleep, and control autism symptoms.
As with every new medical breakthrough, though, CBD oil isn’t without drawbacks. According to Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, senior director of the Autism Center at the Child Mind Institute, there’s a lack of information about using CBD for behavioral disorders, especially in young children. That’s why Silverman and many other health professionals suggest parents learn the facts before stocking up on CBD oil.
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“As parents, we give ourselves the daunting task of fixing everything. When your child is diagnosed with a developmental disorder like autism, the desire to fix things is even more exaggerated,” she says. “Treatment for autism takes time. Parents see CBD oil as this option that can address some of the needs in a way nothing else can.”
But despite how tempting CBD oil may be as an autism treatment, Silverman says it’s “not an intervention with an evidence base.” It’s also not an FDA-approved method for treating autism.
Here are a few more issues surrounding the treatment of autism with CBD oil:
No clinical trial has analyzed the effects of treating CBD oil with autism, so doctors aren’t sure about safety. It’s also unclear exactly how CBD is absorbed into the body.
You can’t know the exact amount of CBD in your oil. The concentration of ingredients may differ in each batch, says Silverman.
CBD oil products aren’t lab tested in every state, according to the Child Mind Institute, so they could potentially contain THC or other unknown items.
CBD oil may interact with other medications.
Side effects, like drowsiness and dry mouth, may be possible.
Some parents may also wonder about the legal issues regarding CBD oil. Some states allow CBD oil as long as it’s derived from hemp, but not from marijuana. Other states outlaw CBD altogether, and some permit it for certain uses. Research your own state’s legislation for more details.
So what’s the bottom line? If you’re considering treating your child’s autism with CBD oil, thoroughly research the positives and negatives. Talk to your child’s doctor – or someone who is well-educated in using CBD oil for medical purposes. And when it comes to choosing products, try finding out how much THC it contains. It’s always best to be an informed consumer when making decisions regarding your child’s health.
How Medical Marijuana Can Help Autism Patients
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social, communication, and behavioral skills. It can be difficult to find treatment for autism because many different symptoms of autism can be present. Unfortunately, there is no cure yet. However, medical marijuana has been found to help with the symptoms of autism in some children by improving their moods and decreasing aggression tendencies. It enhances cognitive performance in patients with brain injury or dementia-related illness, and promising for autistic adults who have difficulty communicating verbally due to Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFA).
What Is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is from the cannabis plant and contains cannabinoids that help treat diseases and conditions. It can be consumed by people who have prescriptions from doctors, just like recreational weed, but it’s for medical purposes, with more than 100 different chemicals (cannabinoids). The most common is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces feelings associated with the drug, such as a “high” when smoked/eaten. Alongside THC is cannabidiol or CBD, which is known to relieve pain without being psychoactive, but still has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on chronic illnesses.
What Is Medical Marijuana Used For?
Doctors are exploring the use of medical marijuana as a way to treat various conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Diseases affecting the immune system
- Multiple sclerosis
While there is still much uncertainty about its benefits for many conditions, the most significant amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relates to its ability to reduce chronic pain, vomiting, and nausea due to chemotherapy. It has also been shown in clinical trials that it can assist M.S. patients with spasticity symptoms.
How Does Medical Marijuana Help Autism?
The interest in cannabis as a treatment for autism came about following research studies conducted by Israeli doctors who found CBD to be effective against epilepsy. They later realized that many of their patients were also experiencing improvements with behavior problems, which led them to investigate further this connection between cannabinoid drugs and mental health issues like anxiety or depression. More empirical data is needed before affirmatively saying marijuana helps people on the spectrum – let alone cure them!
After conducting a follow-up study further to evaluate cannabis treatment for the symptoms of autism, Israeli researchers published their findings in January 2019’s online journal. Among those reported benefits are seizures and tics, and “rage attacks” or restlessness.”
While the researchers acknowledge that their study cannot say cannabis treatment improves symptoms in ASD patients, they believe it is safe and can improve the quality of life for those with this disorder. The need for double-blind placebo-controlled trials to better understand how these drugs affect individuals will prompt policy changes based on one such preliminary trial.
In 2018, the Epidiolex was approved by the FDA for two rare and severe seizure disorders. Clinical trials showed that it decreased average patient seizures by 45% to 50%. The medicine is composed primarily of cannabidiol from marijuana plant extract, which contains no THC.
However, experts warn that these drugs remain largely untested in this capacity, so it is difficult to know if they will work or not until more research has been done on them. There have already been some studies showing promising results with cannabinoids. Still, these early-stage clinical trials can sometimes give us false hope without enough information about long-term outcomes.
Cannabis contains active ingredients that are thought to exert their effects by binding with cannabinoid receptors in the brain: THC binds CB1 and CB2 primarily, while CBD seems to reduce this.
Cannabinoids are lipophilic molecules found in the human body, and there is more CB1 than CB2. Each type affects a range of ion channels proteins involved in cell signaling throughout your cells, ultimately causing different effects depending on where it binds! For example, if you activate them in the brain, neurons could become less excitable or stay precisely how they were before when these cannabinoids come into contact. However, digestion system activation will decrease inflammation by reducing oxidative stress caused by damage to cell membranes.
Scientists have found that CBD is an effective treatment for seizures and memory problems in mouse models of fragile X syndrome. A clinical trial looking into the effects of a synthetic cannabidiol drug showed significant improvement among people who had been diagnosed with this condition relating to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These findings are exciting because they show how cannabinoids can influence traits related to cognition, such as anxiety!
Research has also demonstrated that CBD relieves seizures in children with CDKL5 deficiency disorder, an autism-linked condition characterized by frequent seizures and developmental delay. Moreover, it lessens the frequency or severity of these epileptic episodes while improving learning abilities for mouse models infected by this gene. CDKL5 deficiency was identified as responsible for several neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
CBD is the compound in cannabis that produces therapeutic effects. According to a 2018 study, A 20-to 1 ratio of CBD to THC has been found effective for autistic children and teenagers with autism. This same ratio improved quality-of-life scores across various symptoms, including seizures, chronic tics, depression, restlessness, or outbursts. The findings suggest that patients who had these benefits saw significant drops in frequency during their episodes while also reporting decreased intensity from when they began using medical marijuana. More than 25% reported side effects like restlessness which suggests caution should be exercised about how often someone consumes this product at high doses.
The chemical components in marijuana have been shown to have effects that may not be fully understood and studied and has the potential to make things worse in some individuals. Some research suggests certain cannabinoids, e.g., THC and CBD, while others speculate that they shouldn’t be recommended until more data is gathered on its efficacy.
Scientists have found that cannabis has effects beyond the CB1 receptors. CBD may be acting on DNA methylation in mice to produce changes to their autism-linked gene and behaviors, according to a 2020 study by researchers at University College Dublin (UCD). But they don’t know if they cause these epigenetic responses since it was only measured for one day after treatment with THC oil had begun. Furthermore, there’s no way yet to how these findings could translate into humans.
The results of the U.S. study are still pending, and research has yet to establish effectiveness for autism. However, there is promising evidence that medical cannabis can help those on the spectrum! As with other treatments which require additional documentation such as side effects or long-term use to assess its risks/rewards, we recommend consulting your physician before making this choice based on anecdotal internet stories alone.
Medical Marijuana in Florida
For children with autism, it can be challenging to find an effective treatment plan that helps improve symptoms and manage behaviors. Medical marijuana may help these patients by easing stress and anxiety while also improving mood disorders. If you live in Florida or are considering moving here for your family’s health needs, don’t hesitate to contact us at Compassionate Healthcare of Florida. Our board-certified pediatric certifying doctor will work closely with you on your child’s individualized care plans, so they get the best possible results from medical marijuana therapy.