Autism is a disease that has gotten a lot of press lately. Some believe it is naturally occurring, while others blame vaccines for its origins. Whatever its origin, it is one of those disorders that can be particularly trying on a family. It predominantly affects children and the symptoms and severity often progress as a child enters puberty, meaning it gets tougher to deal with as time goes on. Its symptoms include a wide range of mental, neurological and behavior disorders, with experts often disagreeing on what constitutes true autism, and other similar afflictions. As it is so complex, the treatments for it are also wide-ranging. Some doctors trust behavioral therapies, while others prefer a pharmaceutical approach, and many families wind up mixing and matching a combination of treatments to find out which is most effective. For parents it can be incredibly aggravating and heart-wrenching to see occasional progress slip away as their children’s minds and bodies react to treatments and then stop responding. Many reach the point where they are willing to try anything, and it is only then that many have chosen to try medicating with marijuana.
Investigations into any official links between autism and marijuana research prove to be difficult. This is because there is no official work being done on the topic. Because of the federal laws blocking marijuana, it is impossible to get funding for a set of studies. Much of the evidence for the relief that marijuana provides is anecdotal and reported on a case-by-case basis from families gone public with their stories. One of the more famous cases is from Mieko Hester-Perez and her son Joey. At age ten he weighed 46 lbs and was severely malnourished. Many autistic children are “picky eaters” and often will not feed themselves or offer resistance to caretakers trying to nourish them. At her wits’ end, she decided to try medicating Joey with marijuana-infused brownies. She claims that within hours there was a noticeable difference. He began eating and requesting foods and it altered his behavior too. Previously Joey had tended toward self-destructive behavior and aggression toward others. The mellow feeling of being “high” had calmed him down. Also, it reduced his wandering. Wandering episodes are of huge concern for any parent; now imagine the child in question has no way of communicating to people who find him.
Other “success stories” come from Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a Brown University professor, and Debbie Hosseini of California. Both women have children diagnosed with Autism who have seen little or no effect from prescribed pharmaceuticals. As is often the case with modern medications, there are numerous negative side effects as well as developed tolerance. Even Marinol, the THC-derived pharmaceutical drug only consists of THC and may only include trace amounts of other medically useful cannabinoids. Louis Spurgeon of Kansas has a pervasive developmental disorder and was helped by using marijuana. It seems to help most with ensuring nutritional intake and calming down aggressive and violent behaviors (sounds familiar). But for Louis Spurgeon and Kevin Hosseini it has also helped with social behavior and verbalization. According to his mother, Louis had been on several different medications but even as a teenager his scholastic skills were stunted. In high school though, he joined with the “wrong crowd” and started smoking pot. Though she protested, she noticed how it affected his mind and behavior in a positive way. It helped his sociability, calmed his anxiety and aggression and even promoted his verbal skills. After he began smoking, Louis and his mother were having actual conversations! For once the “wrong crowd” got someone onto the right path.
Marijuana may not be the answer for all autistic patients. It is a wide-ranging disorder that effects people in many different ways, just like marijuana. What these case studies highlight is the need for more research in a regimented manner. For the longest time the US government only funded studies that show the negatives to marijuana and none of the benefits. Their priorities are skewed; in fact many studies that previously showed benefits, had their funding cutoff and the results were buried. This is science that must be done for the sake of science and humanity. Often it is the surprise discoveries that lead to true breakthroughs. Politicians should know better than to try and steer a study to say what they want. In the meantime, Marijuana is something that parents may want to consider. One of the pros of marijuana is that its effects are short term. If it proves ineffective or even negative for a particular patient, discontinuing its use ought to return that patient to his previous state.