Quackery Exposed: Marjiuana for Autism

Recently, Louisiana has passed a bill that permits doctors to prescribe medical marijuana more freely to patients with a variety of conditions. This is the latest in a series of actions that originate to the 1970's in Louisiana. Since its recent acceptance, there have been billboards and celebrities endorsing brands since law have been more loose in regards to criminal possession. 

The marijuana plat contains over 100 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The compounds of greatest interest is tetreahydrocannabinoid (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is a psychoactive compound. Its use leads to a "high" including symptoms of euphoria, memory loss, altered coordination and altered perception. CBD is not high inducing but it does have effects on the brain. 

*Disclaimer: If you are an adult then you can make your own decision. Adults enjoy recreation cannabis and there is no issue with that. The effect on a growing brain is the primary concern here. Please read the scientific information and talk with your doctor before taking any medication or drug*

Advocacy Organization for Medical Marijuana for Autistic Children

There is a medical marijuana advocacy group called Hope Grows for Autism that was founded in 2016. It was founded in by Erica Daniels. Erica Daniels is a mother of an autistic child who was diagnosed in 2007. After she took him to many specialists and experimenting with over a dozen treatments with no success, she started using diet and cannabis. Hope Grows for Autism partnered with Ilera Holistic Health to develop Hope 1 and Hope 2, cannabis products marketed for autistic children. 

A Marijuana Product Specifically for Autistic Children

Daniels also is an advisor to Ilera Holistic Health's line of "Autism treatment" called Hope. Hope was released about two years ago and now is in dispensaries in Pennsylvania and in Australia. In Louisiana, Hope costs $100 for a 30 milliliter bottle of oil. It is placed under the tongue and has "varying results."Ilera claims that 60% of patients have significant improvements and do not continue with other medication. 

Studies by Ilera

One study that the company did perform was published in an open access journal from the "publishers of nature."Its a journal publishing from all areas of "natural and clinical sciences." Its a broad scope journal and welcome all research.  It is not a reputable publication. 

The study tests 118 children. They were measured based on restlessness, "rage attacks" and agitation. The product was applied to the participant under the tongue. The study had promising results for those parents who want a quick fix instead of supporting their children. 

23 children had discontinued the study due to side effects. The side effects of this mixture were: 
  • sleepiness
  • bad taste and smell of the oil
  • restlessness (weren't they trying to treat that?)
  • Reflux
  • lack of appetite 

There are a few problems:
  • This study wasn't published in a reputable journal
  • There is no method of data collection specified
  • If the method of data collection was reported by the participants parents, it is not a scientific method of data collection, the study does not prove anything
Another study was published in June 2020 for the use of three of Iilera's formulations of Hope, a cannabis product marketed for autistic children. This was a survey of 50 participants whose children are being administered these substances. The results showed improvement but there is no empirical evidence. There was no observation by the professionals running the study. They relied solely on the untrained opinions of the parents of the participants. 

What The Science Says


Approved Uses

The FDA has only approved four cannabis related drugs. Any of these applications must have a prescription from a doctor. 

Epidiolex is for a rare seizure disorder called Lennox Gastaut Syndrome or Dravet Syndrome in patients 2 years of age or older. 

Marinol, Casamet and Syndros are synthetic derivatives of cannabis for use for nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy and for the treatment of anorexia associate with weight loss in AIDS patients. They are proven to be safe and effective. 

Position on Unapproved Uses of Cannabis

The FDA is aware of unapproved cannabis and cannabis derived products being used to treat a variety of different conditions and illnesses. The use of unapproved cannabis and cannabis derived products can have unpredictable and unintended consequences, including safety risks. There has been no FDA review of data from clinical trials to support that these are safe and effective. 

American Academy of Pediatrics

According to the AAP, the adverse effects of marijuana have been well documented and studies demonstrate negative consequences of short therm and long term recreational use in adolescents. The prefrontal cortex, area controlling judgement and decision making, is not fully developed until the mid 20's.  

These consequences include:
  • short term memory loss
  • decreased concentration
  • shortened attentions pan
  • impaired problem solving
  • alterations in motor contro
  • alterations in coordination
  • alterations in judgement
  • alterations in reaction time
  • alterations in tracking ability
  • negative health effects on lung function when smoking it
  • high rates of psychosis in patients with predisposition to schizophrenia
In a recent analysis of four independent trials found that cannabis use during adolescence is associated with reductions in the odds of high school completion and degree attainment and increases of use of other illicit drugs and suicide attempts dose dependent fashion that suggest that marijuana use is causative. 

Autism Science Foundation

The Autism Science Foundation is a problematic organization that aims to find the cure to autism. This problematic organization is even against cannabis for autism. According to the ASF, the growing interest in CBD has spread to the autism community (not autistic community, there is a difference). There are anecdotal reports of improvement in anxiety, depression and restlessness. This is why some people use it in a way thats not approved by the FDA. There are no results from a well designed and carefully conducted study. There is no clinical guidance on the use of cannabinoids in autistic people. 

There are many known adverse effects of THC. They are:
  • increased anxiety
  • psychotic thinking
  • cyclic vomiting
Due to its psychoactive properties, it should not be given to children. It should not be smoked as there is evidence of smoking cannabis leads to lung cancer. 

Autism Science Foundation agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics and is against the use of cannabis in children when it is not approved by the FDA. 

Uses unapproved by the FDA in children should never be attempted. The effects on a growing brain is too risky to make a child seem more neurotypical. Supporting the child to be their best is the best type of "treatment." If a parent is thinking of trying any type of over the counter or treatment, its best to contact the pediatrician.