The state of Michigan is considering adding autism to its list of ailments that qualify a patient for medical marijuana, an acknowledgment of a therapy that many parents already swear by.
The idea of using cannabis to treat autism in children gained national attention thanks to the 2009 Slate essay “Why I Give My 9-Year-Old Pot.” In her article, Marie Myung-Ok Lee wrote about how marijuana cookies helped relieve her son’s severe autism symptoms when nothing else worked. But six years later, the treatment has gained little legal traction.
Currently, no states specifically list autism as a qualifying condition for cannabis, although doctors in California have the freedom to prescribe marijuana to any patient at their own discretion. For the other 22 medical states, not to mention all those that still persist in prohibition, autistic patients are out of luck.
The proposed measure in Michigan was the result of a campaign by the family of a young boy named Noah who suffers from autism. Since the 6-year-old started taking a cannabis-derived oil a year ago, his violent behavior has ceased.
“He’s more focused, he’s calmer,” said his mother Lisa Smith to CBS Detroit. “He sleeps better through the night. He has a better appetite. You can tell he’s growing, gaining weight.”
Since Noah also suffers from seizures, he was legally eligible for marijuana treatment already, but other children who are autistic but don’t have epilepsy are not.
“It seems to work . . . Wouldn’t that be better than giving them all these psychiatric drugs?” Noah’s doctor, Dr. Harry Chugani, said to the news station. “Not every autistic kid would take this, but if your behavior is wild and you have to be institutionalized, I as a physician would prefer to try medical marijuana. I have at least 50 patients on multiple drugs and still their behaviors are not controlled.”
We don’t have a clear understanding yet of how cannabis works to treat autism, but the anecdotal evidence seems to support the notion, and the industry is working to expand its knowledge of why.
“Cannabinoids in cannabis interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (literally inner-cannabinoid) and act not only to regulate emotion and focus but also serve as a neuroprotective preventing the further degradation of brain cells,” notes the Denver Relief dispensary. “Tempering an autistic person’s mood consistently is achieved with an oral dose of cannabis that can be adjusted according to need. Unlike pharmaceutical alternatives, cannabis has no lethal dose making it safe for self-medicating and easing the worries of caretakers.”
Michigan legislators are holding a public hearing on the issue this week. The state’s Medical Marijuana Review Panel previously rejected the idea in 2013, but lawmakers will give it another look. Under current Michigan law, doctors can only recommend marijuana to patients if they have cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, PTSD and a limited number of other afflictions.
Advocates of Noah and other autistic children who benefit from cannabis are working on a film called The Whole Plant to share their stories and spread the word of how cannabis is helping their kids live normal lives.
“It’s not just about preventing seizures and regulating behaviors for our kids, it’s about regulating hormones and neuronal activity, growing new brain cells, super-charging mitochondria,” the campaign promises. “It’s about kids being happy and comfortable in their bodies for the first time.”
A number of other groups, like Mothers For Medical Marijuana Treatment For Autism and Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, are also pushing for awareness and acceptance. NORML has compiled more resources and stories about children with autism who benefited from marijuana. Their efforts could soon pay off in Michigan, which could lead other states to follow suit and give one more option to parents struggling to provide the best medication to their children.
School Psychology says
To the authors. I would propose that consultation or collaboration with a mental health professional is warranted when discussing autism and medicine. I don’t usually respond to any articles but as a School neuropsychologist ‘originally from brooklyn’ I find its my duty to speak up and offer clarification and consult where mental health stigma is perpetuated due to inacurate information.
Autism is typically not what is treated with medicine. It’s not even called autism anymore. First of all, the comorbid conditions connected with autism (which are not uncommon) are being treated by the psychotropics. Many ASD (autism spectrum disorder) children have comorbidity with ADHD, Bipolar, Anxiety and/or various impulse control disorders. The prescribed psychotropics or the medicinal marijuana is treating the disorders associated with ASD. Bottom line is, the organizations mentioned above should focus on the comorbid conditions which may already have approval for medicinal marijuana. They are fighting a fight that has already been won!!!
I hope the authors can help remedy this global epidemic of misinformation in mental health which is all too common. I am available if you would ever need to consult on future mental health concerns.
Martin McFly Wuest says
Autism itself as qualifying condition would alleviate the need to find create ways or loopholes like anxiety or ADHD (which is usually most likely confused with dissociative disorder in children and adults with gene mutations associated with Autism) to qualify children. The reason that “Autism” is treated with medical cannabis is because the medical cannabis helps with every issue involved with Autism or the impairment associated with Autism. Children with an Autism diagnosis are typically having problems with neuronal activity, hormones, and excess synapses. Cannabis helps regulate all of these things and more. :] So trying to say that Autism isn’t even called Autism anymore is kind of ridiculous, especially considering ADHD is more or less a fictional disorder. There are some great studies and articles now on the internet where you can find great information about what cannabis actually does for persons with Autism and what our endocannabinoid systems are and do for our bodies.
Misinformation is a word that is thrown around loosely by people these days, and in this case, it is your comment that is misinformation. As for mental health stigma, I would say that the best we can do to unravel that stigma is to educate ourselves and make less assumptions, and to stop acting like experts where we are not experts.
I’d also like to add that as an Autistic person with Autistic family members and many friends considered to be on the spectrum, most of us with Bipolar diagnosis actually have DID or some type of dissociative disorders, as life can be very traumatic for highly sensitive people when everyone else thinks they know what is right for other people. If we really want to create a more open-minded mental health environment, we should stop diagnosing people as bipolar just because they seem to switch or act out in cycles.
School Psychology says
I agree that we shouldn’t categorize because every person is unique and every person’s brain is different. We all have strengths and weaknesses. This is what we need to focus on. People with symptoms of what we now call ASD can have a little of it or more of it.
It is the same with almost every diagnosis. You can have a little bit of something or more of it or alot of it. For example…..
If we believe in science and in hard data, then we know that stress has been proven to release cortisol in the brain. Cortisol ends up affecting the prefrontal cortex which also is where we see executive dysfunction and symtpoms of ADHD like planning, organization, short term memory, some impulse control or thought confusion.
That means that if stress can therefore cause ADHD, then everyone in the world has some level of ADHD. That does not mean that everyone in the world needs some form of medication. People will usually go to a medical professional or mental health professional when their symptoms or disabilities affect their relationships or their work.
I would use caution in saying that people with Autism typically have this or that. Every person in this world is an individual and different people have different needs.
No judgment also means no generalizing sometimes.
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