Updated on August 7, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Patients with Autism in the Ohio medical marijuana program received some disappointing news in July. The Ohio Medical Board reviewed petitions for new qualifying health conditions for a year. The medical board special committee approved one new condition; cachexia.
The State Medical Board of Ohio began accepting petitions and comments from the public in 2019. The petition deadline closed on December 31, 2019, to allow time for review. The July 2020 announcement benefits patients diagnosed with Cachexia. But did not add autism or anxiety to the qualifying health conditions list.
Two Recent Clinical Studies About Cannabinoids and Children
In 2013, Stanford reported positive findings. There is a link between cannabinoids and children with a spectrum disorder. The research said that some children with autism are deficient in natural endocannabinoids. Communication functions are strongly tied to endocannabinoid brain functions. The Stanford study suggested children with autism could benefit from CBD therapies.
In February of 2019, a prominent study of spectrum disorder was released in Israel. The results suggested that children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may benefit from cannabis treatments. The Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem is further studying the effects. Initial findings suggest that CBD may help lower barriers to communication and help children on the spectrum.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability. In children, it can affect the development of communication and social skills. Children diagnosed with ASD may also have a very narrow range of interests and expressions. They can also develop repetitive behaviors, similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
There are no standardized symptoms for ASD. Children can have all the signs, or few symptoms, depending on cognitive traits unique to each child. Difficulties with attention and focus are one common obstacle for children on the spectrum. Autism can disrupt healthy development and learning new skills. In severe cases of ASD, children can be withdrawn, or appear in “their own world.” Social disabilities can compound over time. They can impact relationships, self-care, and employment as an adult.
Autism Groups in Ohio Supported the Addition of ASD to the Qualifying Health Conditions List
Mother’s Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism was one of the lobbying groups in Ohio. The group worked with parent groups according to Dispatch.com, pressing for the new qualifying health conditions. Tiffany Carwile is the national director of MAMMA. She was one of the speakers invited to the Ohio Statehouse to comment in 2019. She is also the mother of a 5-year old son who is on the spectrum.
One of the critical points she discussed was that autistic children have no concept of danger. Accidental injuries and fatalities happen frequently to children with autism. They are not always present to their surroundings. Or able to communicate when they need help in a dangerous situation. The obstacles to communication can place children on the spectrum at risk.
The Ohio Autism Insurance Coverage Bill (HB463)
Parents of children with moderate to severe ASD want access to alternative therapies that may help. The Autism Insurance Coverage bill (HB463) was made law in Ohio in 2017. The new bill ordered insurance coverage for autism therapies. It covers Ohio children up to the age of fourteen (14).
Those services include:
Speech and language therapy (up to 20 visits per year)
Up to twenty (20) hours per week of clinical therapeutic intervention by a licensed practitioner
Mental and behavioral health outpatient services. A licensed psychiatrist or psychologist performs them in conjunction with a primary care provider.
Up to thirty (30) reimbursed visits per year to create and administer an ongoing treatment plan for children with ASD.
Parents of children with autism in Ohio claim that it is not enough. They say that 70 hours of therapeutic support a year is not enough. Some non-profit’s in Ohio provide resources for families, but individual therapies are expensive. Many parents cannot afford to augment those services. Or continue them after the age of 14 years.
Access to programs was compromised by Covid-19 and social distancing requirements in healthcare settings. Some parents must now provide whatever training and treatments they can from home. Developmental learning and clinical care services were reduced in many states.
In 2014, Easter Seals reported 740,69 children (aged three to 21 years) in Ohio with a spectrum disorder. There are two agencies that assist with support programs for Autism in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and the Ohio Autism Taskforce (OAT).
Children’s Hospitals Petitioned Against Adding Autism to the Qualifying Conditions List
The State Medical Board of Ohio received only 136 public comments to add autism to the MMJ program. Three hospitals filed opposing remarks. The Nationwide Children’s Hospital was one. The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association also shared opposition statements.
Sarah Kincaid from the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association made a statement. It opposes medical cannabis therapies for children with autism.
“The inclusion of autism and anxiety as conditions has the potential to negatively impact the health and well-being of thousands of children in Ohio,” the association’s Sarah Kincaid wrote. “There is little rigorous evidence that marijuana or its derivatives is of benefit for patients with autism and anxiety, but there is a substantial association between cannabis use and the onset or worsening of several psychiatric conditions.” Source Web August 2020: Dispatch.com