Autism Speaks – It’s Time to Listen: Cannabis and Autism
April 22, 2021
By Tracey Smyser, PharmD

Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a specific disease state. It encompasses a variety of conditions and affects about 1% of the population. Cannabis can help treat symptoms associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Symptoms of ASD include anxiety, aggression, generalized rage, tantrums, self-injurious behavior and seizure disorders to name a few.

Cannabis has not been widely studied but we do know that cannabinoids can help alleviate some of the conditions associated with ASD. The cannabinoid, CBD (cannabidiol), can help with anxiety, depression, epilepsy/seizure disorders, behavioral outbreaks and communication issues. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the more psychoactive cannabinoid, helps in ASD by calming, relaxing patients with anger and aggression. Patients can use a variety of products based on the symptoms they are trying to treat. Cannabis products can come in ratio products such as high CBD to Low THC, 1:1 which are equal parts of CBD to THC and THC only. CBD can be bi-phasic which means it is the body’s dose response relationship. Low concentrations of CBD can be mildly stimulating while high concentrations can be mildly calming and relaxing. Dosing may differ from patient to patient as this is not a one size fits all. It is important to start low and go slow as to establish a dose that is beneficial for what you are trying to treat.

Some terpenes which might be of some benefit in ASD are limonene, linalool, and myrcene. It all depends on what aspect of ASD you are trying to treat. Limonene can help decrease anxiety and uplift mood (depression). Linalool and myrcene are more calming and relaxing terpenes which can help with self-injurious behaviors, aggressive behaviors, seizures and even sleep.

There are two FDA approved medications for the treatment of ASD. Both medications are anti-psychotic medications and have serious side effects associated with their use. The medications are Risperidone (Risperdal) and Aripiprazole (Abilify) which both are good for mood disorders and alleviating behavioral issues which can be associated with ASD. However, the side effects can worsen the quality of life of ASD patients. Some side effects are agitation, sialorrhea, extrapyramidal side effects, tremors, akathisia, dizziness, drowsiness just to name a few. This is where cannabis can be of some benefit and an alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals.

Cannabis can offer ASD patients a more natural alternative which can help improve their quality of life by utilizing the cannabinoids and terpenes the plant has to offer. Many times, this is a patient’s last resort because they have tried other products which are not working well or causing more harm than benefit. The utilization of a more natural method, such as cannabis, for treating the symptoms of ASD can be beneficial.

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