Reported by ForbesParents of severely autistic children are turning to medical cannabis for treatment. Epileptic children have experienced results using medical cannabis. Thus, desperate parents of severely autistic children are beginning to wonder whether the treatment may work for them too. Though there are very few studies linking cannabinoid medicine to autism treatment, parents figure they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving the medication a trial.

A neurodevelopmental disorder is known to impair communication and social interaction. Some children with autism can function well with the various treatments available, but others continue to suffer, unable to speak who experience a range of self-harming behaviours. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reports 1.5% of children diagnosed with autism in the United States as of 2014 are using a CBD or cannabidiol treatment derived from cannabis and hemp plants. Marijuana is known to have higher levels of THC than the hemp plant. THC causes the psychoactive effect while CBD contains the medical properties which help those suffering from autism. Hemp contains more CBD than marijuana, but less of the medicinal compound within CBD to have an effect. The cannabis plant must be bred to produce higher levels of CBD, and then those flowers can be used to extract CBD oil. CBD can also be derived from hemp plants, which contain significant amounts of CBD, but with less strength of the medicinal cannabidiol compound.

Autism and cannabis treatment

The stories of autistic children that show a positive result with CBD oil are very similar to that of epileptic kids and their response to using CBD.  Marie Myung-Ok Lee, who is a Brown University teacher and author of “Somebody’s Daughter,” documented the response her autistic son had to the medication called Marinol. (Marinol is a synthetic cannabis medication produced by the drug company AbbVie.) Marie Myung-Ok Lee decided to switch to an edible form of cannabis first as a trial, following up with a tea version of the cannabis medicine. Her son went from self-harming behaviour that included banging his head, to having the ability to ride a bike. This experiment she found to be a qualified success.Mieko Hester-Perez, another parent who founded The Unconventional Foundation for Autism also discovered the power of medical cannabis in treating her autistic son. She found the results were similar to the story that circulated regarding Charlotte’s Web marijuana strain. In Charlotte’s Web story, the child’s epileptic seizures were dramatically reduced after treatment using this particular breed of cannabis. The Charlottes Web story became famous on a ’60 Minutes’ program. Kushman Genetics created a strain for Ms Perez’ son Joey called “Joeys Strain.”.

Another recent story involves a boy named Kalel Santiago. Kalel Santiago suffered from autism so severe he wasn’t able to speak. By simply spraying hemp oil in his mouth twice daily according to Dr Giovanni Martinez, a clinical psychologist in Puerto Rico, he was speaking his first words. Taking only three weeks to take this child from a nonverbal status, making only sounds to speaking his first words was 100% attributed to the use of CBD; this confirmed by his Dr. as the only change in his treatments.

Hemp Health is a company that imports CBD oil from outside the country. They sell it through the mail. Due to the fact it is derived from hemp and not marijuana, there is no prescription needed. It was their CBD cannabinoid spray that the Santiago’s used to treat their son Kalel.  Co-founder of HempHealth said, Katerina Maloney, stated “We have a lot of epileptic patients calling us. Patients with cancer and pain. There are lots of different conditions.” Maloney does believe more research needs to be done, but she has numerous testimonials from customers that believe in their products. The company now has sales of $150,000 a month.

The issue is that few doctors will recommend this is as a treatment because there is little scientific research to base it on. Unlike epilepsy, where references to cannabis treatments dated as far back as 1843 when Dr William O’Shaughnessy wrote, “In Cannabis, the medical profession has gained an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value.’ There is little research on autism and cannabis. Scott Hadland, MD, MPH, John R. Knight, MD and Sion Kim Harris, PhD of Boston Children’s Hospital write, “Given the current scarcity of data, cannabis cannot be safely recommended for the treatment of developmental or behavioural disorders at this time.”

A 2013 study by Dr Siniscalco found signs to suggest compounds found in cannabis could help to treat autism, writing, “Our data indicate CB2 receptor as a potential therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of the autism care.” Another study published in 2013 and dating back to 2011 by Dr Csaba Foldy at the Second University of Naples associated with Stanford UniversityMedical School is often cited. In the study out of Stanford University first author Dr Foldy wrote, “Endocannabinoids are molecules that are critical regulators of normal neuron activity and are important for many brain function. By conducting studies in mice, we found that neuroliginb-3, a protein that is mutated in some individuals with autism, is important for relaying endocannabinoid signals that tone down communication between neurons.”

Piper Jaffray analyst Josh Schimmer, who covers bio-tech companies, has also made the connection. He noted that some forms of autism shared similar features with epilepsy. He writes, “It’s possible that some children have sub-clinical seizure activity that results in developmental disorders, and there are also incredibly exciting anecdotes of autism patients who thrive after CBD therapy.”

The Autism Research Institute is starting to connect the dots too. They discovered that children with autism that used cannabis experienced marked improvements in symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, tantrums, aggression and self-injurious behaviour. Martin Lee, the author of Smoke Signals and founder of Project CBD, said, “There’s substantive body of pre-clinical research and some anecdotal stories. There’s also some research from GW Pharmaceuticals on psychiatric disorders. It’s not autism, but there are overlapping issues.”

A spokesman for GW Pharmaceutical, Mark Rogerson said, “I’m afraid we have no current research going on in this area. We are aware of the interest in cannabinoid medicines and autism, and our plans may change in the future. But for the time being, we have the full clinical trials program. We are only a small company in pharmaceuticals terms and regretfully, we have to make choices among therapeutic areas.”

There are many pages on Facebook that have devoted their attention to the treatment of autism and cannabis communities. Doctors have written stories about stories they have heard. The one thing lacking is multiple scientific studies. It is clear that if drug companies like GW Pharmaceuticals believe it can tap into this large patient population, the studies will get funded, and patients will be happy to sign up.