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Medical Marijuana and Autism/Aspergers

marijuana and autism

It can be bewildering to receive an autism diagnosis, whether it’s for yourself or your child. You may be familiar with the term but are unsure of exactly what the condition is. You’re no doubt worried about its symptoms and how it will affect you or your child.

Adults and children of all intellectual levels can be diagnosed with autism. Diagnosis can be difficult as symptoms vary so widely. Many people aren't diagnosed with autism until they’re well into adulthood. In this article, we find out more about life on the autistic spectrum, how to treat your condition and how medical marijuana for autism can help.

What is Autism?

Autism is a disorder that relates to neural development. It is best characterized by impaired social interaction, restricted and repetitive behavior and lack of communication skills. The diagnostic criterion claims that symptoms become apparent within a child before they turn three years of age.

Autism directly affects the processing of information in the brain by altering never cells and their proper synapses. Asperger syndrome, commonly known as Asperger’s syndrome, is a disorder that lies within the autism spectrum, and is best distinguished by significant difficulties in social interaction. Similar to autism in a way, this disorder also involved restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.

Autism, also known as autistic spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions. The word “spectrum” relates to the broad array of challenges you experience when you have the condition.  These are typified by difficulties with nonverbal communication, speech, social skills, repetitive behaviors, and unique differences and strengths.

what is autism

When you reach two or three years old, autism signs tends to become noticeable. Some diagnoses occur even earlier. Early evaluation and treatment improve your outcome.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association brought together four diagnoses into one umbrella term of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). These conditions include: 

  • Autistic disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Asperger syndrome

Certain mental health and medical conditions may prevail alongside autism. These include:

History of Autism

Project Autism provides a detailed look at the history, origin and timeline of autism.  The word autism derives from the Greek word “autos,” meaning “self.” The condition was first described by Dr. John Langdon Down in 1887 as “developmental retardation.” In 1943, American Leo Kanner researched people with emotional and social limitations and withdrawn behavior. In 1944, Austrian doctor Johann "Hans" Friedrich Karl Asperger did similar research. Early names for the condition included Kanner’s syndrome and, later, Early Infantile Autism. Asperger later termed it Asperger syndrome.

The symptoms of both conditions were similar but not identical in many ways. People with Asperger syndrome had difficulty interacting socially. However, their language ability was stronger, and their understanding of sometimes highly technical subjects was above average.

In 1964, Bernard Rimland, who had a son with autism, came up with the first solid argument that it’s a biological condition. Rimland went on to found the Autism Society of America.

In 1980, autism was added as “infantile autism” to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — Third Edition (DSM-lll).” This was then replaced by the term “autistic disorder” in 1987. The federal government made autism a special education category in 1991. In 2013, the diagnosis shifted to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Symptoms of Autism

People with autistic spectrum disorders tend to engage in repetitive behaviors, have social interaction problems and encounter communication challenges. Symptoms and their severity widely vary as ASD is a spectrum disorder.

You may have mild challenges when you’re at the high-functioning end of the spectrum. Alternatively, your symptoms could be severe. Your lack of spoken language and repetitive behaviors could significantly interfere with how you live your life.

Autism is a lifelong condition. Even so, you’ll benefit from therapies or interventions, potentially including cannabis. These can increase your abilities and skills and reduce your symptoms. Common autism symptoms include the following.

Repetitive Behaviors With Autism

A core symptom of autism is a tendency to engage in a restricted range of activities and/or unusual repetitive behaviors. It’s common to:

  • Rock back and forth
  • Arrange and rearrange objects
  • Repeat phrases or sounds

You may be preoccupied with putting your household objects in a fixed order or in specific places. You might need your daily routine and environment to be incredibly consistent, without any changes. In the case of anything being different, you’ll feel extremely stressed and may be prone to outbursts.

You may develop all-encompassing obsessions and interests. You could have a huge interest in science, numbers, dates or symbols.

Social Challenges With Autism

Developing babies are very social. In contrast, autistic children have social difficulties. At around eight to ten months, many babies with the condition won’t respond to their names, are disinterested in people and have delayed speech. By the time they’re toddlers, they’ll probably have trouble playing social games and will prefer to be on their own. They might not respond to parental displays of affection or anger.

You may feel your child is disconnected if you’re a parent of an autistic child. An autistic person can’t pick up easily or quickly on social cues. They may be unable to see things from someone else’s perspective. They might be unable to understand other people’s feelings and to interpret gestures.

If you have autism, you might not be able to see things from someone else's perspective. You could also have trouble regulating your emotions and be prone to having outbursts in inappropriate situations. Your frustration could lead to you injuring yourself by engaging in:

  • Self-biting
  • Head banging
  • Hair-pulling

Communication Difficulties With Autism

When you have autism, you may consistently repeat what someone else has said or say the same words and phrases over and over. Mildly affected individuals may have huge vocabularies and enjoy carrying on monologues about their favorite subjects.

People with autism may be unable to understand expressions that aren’t designed to be taken literally. Being unable to comprehend the tone of voice and body language is a prevailing symptom. When you have ASD, it’s common to be very frustrated with yourself and act out because of it.

Additionally, you may also experience:

  • Genetic disorders
  • GI problems
  • Seizure disorders
  • Sleeping problems
  • Sensory processing issues
  • Pica, a tendency to eat things that aren’t food.

Effects of Autism

When you’re unable to understand social cues and people’s differing tones of voice, you may become frustrated and angry. The world is an overwhelming and confusing place when you have autism. You feel very alone. Ordinary touches, sights, tastes, sounds and smells might be painful. Often, environments seem hostile. You might feel withdrawn, particularly when you’re in a busy place.

People might confuse you because you interpret language literally. You may suffer from blowups and meltdowns when your senses go into overload.

You may also have some brilliant skills. Perhaps you have a photographic memory, or you are amazing at drawing. ASD can be frightening when you’re living with it every day. It can also be a gift.

Autism Statistics: How Common Is It?

According to Autism Speaks, autism can result in intellectual disabilities and is more prevalent in boys:

  • A third of autistic people are nonverbal.
  • A third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
  • One in 68 U.S. children has autism. This is broken down into one in 189 girls and one in 42 boys.
autism stats

Current Treatments Available for Autism and Their Side Effects

If you think you might have ASD, experts encourage an early diagnosis for the best treatment outcome. You can reduce difficulties and focus on your strengths with proper care.  There is no single best treatment as every autistic individual is different. Some methods of treatment include the following.

Medication to Treat Autism

Your doctor may prescribe you medication to help with:

  • Attention problems
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Repetitive behavior

All medications come with the risk of side effects. For example, antipsychotic medications cause sedation and extreme lethargy. Perhaps this is why more people turn to natural methods like medical marijuana for autism to treat their symptoms.

Behavioral/Educational Interventions to Treat Autism

Intensive skill-oriented training sessions, such as sensory integration therapy, floor time, behavior modification and pivotal response training, can help you overcome difficulties. You may also be offered family therapy.

How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Autism

There is a growing body of positive anecdotal evidence from both the parents of autistic children and the medical community that suggest taking cannabis for autism is an effective treatment. Researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. Giovanni Martinez is currently researching treating ASD children with CBD (cannabidiol) oil.

In one case, a child who received a twice daily dose of hemp oil spoke his first words after treatment. In just three weeks, he developed sign language skills after previously being non-verbal.  The child in question was once so frustrated about being unable to communicate that he would self-injure. He can now express himself and is happily enjoying life.

Medical marijuana has been known to be a solution to alleviating outbursts of rage, seizures and temper tantrums among autism patients. Cannabis and cannabis-based products such as concentrates and tinctures can be responsible for the lessening of any erratic actions that may have occurred in the past. Patients who use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms become extremely relaxed and very attentive to what they are doing. Best put, medical marijuana can serve as an exceptional behavioral modification, which can protect both the health and safety of an autistic patient.

The state of Pennsylvania has approved autism as a qualified condition for the use of medical marijuana. Delaware has okayed autism with self-injurious or aggressive behavior as a qualifying condition.

What Symptoms of Autism Can Marijuana Treat?

Medical pot can be used to treat the seizures, communication problems, a tendency to self-harm, inability to sleep, and potentially more. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best strains to use for treating autism.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Autism

There are many different strains of medical cannabis for autism available to purchase from dispensaries. Each has its unique effects. To find out what’s best suited to you, it’s a good idea to speak with a knowledgeable budtender or your medical marijuana doctor. Before you do that, you can take a look at this short list for background information.

Using Marijuana to Treat Seizures

A worrying and frightening symptom of autism is often having seizures. If these affect you and you don’t want to take conventional medications, the following cannabis strains may work for you:

marijuana seizure strains

  • Grapefruit Kush. Grapefruit Kush, a hybrid strain, is a cross of Grapefruit and BC Kush. The strain has a fruity taste and may be beneficial for treating seizures and muscle spasms.
  • Black Bubba. Black Bubba is an indica strain that’s a cross of Black Russian and Bubba Kush. The strain boasts fruit and pine notes. It should be taken in the evening when you have nothing left to do. The effects of Black Bubba are very relaxing and sedative.

Using Marijuana to Improve Relaxation and Communication

When you’re on the autistic spectrum, it’s common to experience communication difficulties as well as an inability to relax. The following strains should offer some relief from these symptoms:

  • Chocolope. Chocolope is a highly energizing sativa strain that provides you with an uplifted and blissfully happy experience. You should start off with a small dose to see how you react to Chocolope, as this strain can occasionally cause anxiety. However, it can provide symptom relief when used correctly.
  • Blue Dream. Blue Dream is one of the most recognizable strains of pot in the world. It provides a smooth, hybrid experience and is perfect for daytime use. You feel relaxed, creative and happy when you take this strain.

Using Marijuana to Treat Sleep Problems

Cannabis is well known for its sedative qualities. There is probably nothing worse for your health than not sleeping. As you sleep, your body has the chance to repair itself. You recharge. If you have autism and are unable to sleep, the following heavy indica strains will do the trick:

marijuana sleep strains

  • Afghani. The powerful sedative effects of Afghani begin within minutes of taking it. You’ll have a deep, blissful sense of relaxation before falling asleep, and awaken refreshed and rejuvenated.
  • Northern Lights. Northern Lights is an indica-dominant hybrid and is particularly helpful if medications, pain, anxiety or depression cause your insomnia. It’s best to take this strain an hour or so before bed.

Medical cannabis is worth a try if you feel conventional treatments are just not working for you or you need some additional help treating your symptoms.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use for Autism Symptoms

Now that you know about some of the most effective strains of medical cannabis for autism symptoms, you need to know how to take them. You focus on health when you’re using cannabis medically. Therefore, you probably don’t want to smoke it. We all know the dangers of smoking, so what are the alternatives? You can take marijuana in various ways, including:

  • Vaping. Vaping provides almost instantaneous results. It’s also not as hard on your lungs as smoking.
  • Sprays. Cannabis sprays come in a variety of flavors and are easy to carry along with you.
  • Tinctures. These alcohol-based extracts can be put into your drinks and food.
  • Juices. You can blend up fresh, raw pot leaves with some fruit or vegetable juice. You can drink this wherever you are.
  • Edibles. You can buy or make your own edibles like cupcakes and brownies. No matter where you are, these are discrete to eat.

The above methods of using medical marijuana may be right for you if you’re focusing on your health. They eliminate smoke and enable you to try different ways of taking pot so you can find the perfect method for you. Taking medical pot doesn’t need to mean smoking a joint. There are many far less obvious ways of taking your cannabis whenever you need to. Considering these different ways of taking medical marijuana, there will be a method that suits you.

Find a Doctor Near You to Try Medical Marijuana for Autism

If you or someone close to you is searching for a way to relieve the symptoms of autism, it’s time to take that next step. Search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today to find out more about cannabis and autism. Take back control of your health and improve your quality of life.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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