Autism, properly known as autism spectrum disorder, impairs people’s communication skills. They might indulge in restrictive and/or repetitive behaviour that can be injurious. It makes their social interactions stilted, possibly to the extent of their being unable to speak. They can even be violent.
Sufferers will probably require significant support, but they can be gifted. There’s no known cure. The condition usually appears between the ages of two and three and lasts for life. Worldwide, autism strikes one percent of people – over 700 million folk. It looks like cannabis is good for autism.
If you want to be constipated and nauseous, have heart problems, gain weight and vomit, stick to conventional drugs
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration approved the anti-psychotic drugs risperidone, branded as Risperdal, and aripiprazole, branded as Ablify, for the treatment of autism. Their side effects include constipation, gynecomastia (development of male breasts), heart problems, nausea, vomiting and weight gain. Dr Bernard Rimland, who expired in 2006, founded the Autism Society of America. He wrote Infantile Austim: the Syndrome and Its Implication for a Neural Theory of Behavior. In an article for Autism Research Review International, he wrote that psychotropic drugs “are among the least useful and most dangerous” and cannabis seemed “fairly benign in comparison.”
As so often, doctors won’t recommend cannabis for autism because there’s no data to support this course of action. The problem, of course, is that there’s no data because cannabis is illegal. That still leaves us with innumerable anecdotes. Dr. Daniele Piomelli is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists and researchers into endocannabinoids; the endocannabinoid system is what interacts with cannabis’ main ingredients of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, which makes you stoned) and cannabidiol (CBD, which doesn’t). She remarked, “Anecdotes should not be dismissed.” This is because they are “a pointer … something that suggests something needs to be either proven or disproven.”
So here are some anecdotes
In Puerto Rico, one child went from being non-verbal to having significant language skills after three weeks of receiving a spray of hemp oil twice a day for autism. Hemp is rich in CBD. Dr Giovanni Martinez, a clinical psychologist, described this as “incredible,” marking a drastic improvement in the quality of life of both the child and his family.
Mieko Hester-Perez hails from a conservative US family whose members often worked in law enforcement. She founded the Unconventional Foundation for Autism. This was because she produced Joey, who was diagnosed with autism. He was later also diagnosed with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, a rare and vicious degenerative muscular disorder, and given six months to live. He would have had to have taken 13 medications whose toxicity was recognised and severe.
Hester-Perez gave her son cannabis-infused edibles. Shortly thereafter, Joey started to more consistently make eye contact, which autistic children invariably struggle with. His appetite was stimulated and he gained weight. He had been given six months to live but now, six years later, he is thriving.
In Israel, four-year-old Benjamin, who is autistic, would smash his head against the wall repeatedly, spin wildly in circles, screech at top volume and sometimes pull down his trousers and shit on the floor. At her wit’s end, having tried every conventional medicine available, his mother gave him cannabis oil, and what came next was “like a miracle”: she had peace. Benjamin left his special needs school and returned to a bog standard classroom.
Again in Israel, after giving her autistic child cannabis oil, one mother commented, “My child is speaking relentlessly. He never spoke before. And he’s 12 years old.”
Is it the THC or CBD that helps?
In one Israeli study of treatment for autism, cannabis oil was used that had a ratio of 20 parts CBD to one part THC. This reflects the consensus.
Why does cannabis help?
Danielle Piomelli of University of California Irvine and Oliver Manzoni of the French research agency INSERM found that people with fragile X syndrome, the most common genetic cause for autism, had a limited amount of the (naturally occurring) encocannabinoid transmitter compound 2-AG. Cannabis can help to block the enzymes that influence 2-AG.