Friday, November 27, 2009

Medical Marijuana and Autism

I've been reading a lot of testimonials from autistic adults and parents of autistic kids who swear that medicinal use of marijuana has reduced their gut pain and constant anxiety, reduced the occurrence of aggressive/violent episodes, reduced hypersensitivity, increased focus, and improved sociability.  The down side: marijuana increases perseverative behavior, tics, and some other non-violent symptoms of autism. 

Proponents of treating symptoms of autism with weed (as a medicine of last resort) note that marijuana is relatively safe, while commonly-used psychotrophic pharmaceuticals like Risperdal have a wide range of highly-toxic side effects.  There is also a manufactured drug called Marinol which contains synthetic THC - one of the 60 naturally-occurring cannabinoids found in marijuana.

For obvious reasons there are few good scientific studies on this subject, but I'm fascinated by the anecdotal evidence.  It makes sense to me that a brain that is wired differently than a neurotypical brain would also process drugs in a different way.  And it makes sense that if an autistic person is more relaxed he will be more receptive to communication and learning and all those things we expect people to do in society.  I have no doubt that these tales are true - the most striking of which involved a 9-year-old boy who used to go into violent rages, had chronic pain due to spinal tumors, and suffered from pica (he would eat his own clothing and bedding - he would consume a shirt a day).  Almost immediately after starting the cannabis, the pica stopped, the child started doing better in school, and he went from having over 300 violent episodes per day to going days at a time without a single aggressive incident.

And yet.

We're talking about giving a 9-year-old child marijuana.  It's been drummed into our heads since elementary school that using marijuana while your brain is still developing will mess you up - decreased short-term memory, gateway to all the evils of the world, dependency, aggression, depression...  I don't know if there's a minimum age for a child to receive a medical marijuana prescription, but I'm disturbed by the image of my preschooler listening to Bob Marley and staring at van Gogh paintings in Amsterdam.

But the more I read, the more I am convinced that for kids who require medication, marijuana might be one of the safer options out there.  Yeah, there's the whole legality issue, but I think marijuana has been excessively demonized, and if it can ease chronic pain, it shouldn't be kept from ill people who could reap its benefits.  I am thankful that my son is benefiting from non-chemical interventions and does not require drugs, but I'm glad to know there's something out there that's helping families cope with behaviors that can not be changed in similar ways.

(Read some of those links up there - good stories abound.)

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