Could Cannabis Help Treat Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A vendor points out the variety of marijuana for sale at the grand opening of the Seattle location of the Northwest Cannabis Market, for sales of medical marijuana products, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. The market hosts nine permanent vendors for seven-day-a-week sales, as well as a number of daily vendors of a variety dried medicines, edible products and starts. Voters in Washington state last fall passed Initiative 502, which legalizes the recreational possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and calls for the creation of state-licensed pot growers, processors and retail stores. Recreational marijuana sales are expected to begin late this year, and in the meantime, the state’s medical marijuana industry continues to operate. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A growing number of parents of autistic children are coming out in support of medical cannabis, saying that their children show miraculous results for a condition that often seems hopeless.


Awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder is becoming more and more prevalent in our society, with nearly 1 in 68 children now being diagnosed with some form of ASD every year. The spectrum of severity is extremely wide, but it can negatively impact communication skills, complicate social interactions and may cause aggression, obsessive-compulsive tendencies or self-injurious behaviors.

There is no known cause or cure for autism, so the disorder is typically treated with a variety of therapies and medications. For some patients these treatments are effective, but with the large increase in diagnoses, many parents are still desperate for an effective way to ease autism’s various symptoms.

With cannabis showing great efficacy in treating epilepsy, which affects around 30 percent of people with autism, some parents are now wondering if it could also be a potential treatment for other issues associated with the disorder.

There has been a growing number of anecdotal cases of children and adults with ASD showing positive results with cannabis use, but due to the fact that cannabis remains a Schedule I substance, many parents are putting themselves at risk of legal consequences in their attempt to heal their children.

A Lack of Empirical Evidence

Since cannabis remains federally illegal, there is minimal scholarly research on the subject of medical marijuana of any kind. Fortunately, a clinical study currently underway in Israel has many advocates of cannabis for autism cautiously optimistic: The study involves 120 participants between the ages of five and 29, all with varying degrees of ASD. Each patient receives one of two types of cannabis oil or a placebo.

Lead researcher, Dr. Adi Aran, launched the study (which will last through 2018) after seeing positive results in 70 of his autistic patients in a previous observational study. He does warn that, while current results have shown promise, it will take more time to determine whether cannabis could be a viable treatment.

Yael Shulman’s daughter, Noa, is one of the participants in Dr. Aran’s study. In an interview with USA Today, Shulman stated that while she does not know which treatment group Noa is in, she happy just to have an opportunity to try something new after so many failed treatment attempts.

“I had really come to a point where I no longer had the power — not physically, not emotionally,” she said.

Hoping for a Miracle

Despite the growing interest and evidence that cannabis may be a viable treatment for autism, it is still difficult for parents and caregivers to obtain the medicine legally. Medical marijuana is available in 29 states, yet only a handful consider ASD a qualifying condition. Therefore, many parents are forced to treat their children illegally in order to potentially save their lives.

Mieko Hester-Perez, whose son Joey suffers from severe autism, has been a vocal advocate of cannabis as a treatment for ASD. After trying medications, behavioral therapies and dietary changes with little to no results, Hester-Perez was desperate for help. She eventually discovered an editorial written by Dr. Bernard Rimland, former director of the Autism Research Institute, touting the potential benefits of cannabis for people on the autism spectrum.

She said Joey began consuming cannabis brownies with remarkable results.

“He wanted to sit in his room and play with his toys,” Hester-Perez said in an interview with the Autism Support Network. “We noticed that he wasn’t on edge as much.”

Hester-Perez went on to found the Unconventional Foundation for Autism, which aims to educate the public about alternative autism therapies, including cannabis. Other parents are also starting to come out in support of cannabis, with many stating that the plant saved their children’s lives.

Mark Zartler began treating his daughter Kara, who has severe autism, with cannabis on the advice of a friend. Kara had not responded to traditional therapies or medications, yet cannabis appeared to ease her self-injurious behaviors. However, the family resides in Texas, where medical marijuana remains illegal.

Zartler recently went public with his family’s story in the hopes that others will come forward to help others gain access to medical cannabis.

“If I’m driving through Texas, and I get pulled over, I’m going to be arrested,” Zartler said in an interview with The Washington Post. He went on to say that while going public with his story puts his family at extreme risk with the authorities, the potential benefits make it all worth it. “Obviously I’m doing an antagonistic thing, but I don’t want to be antagonistic about it…We’re hoping with the attention we’re getting, we can influence people into doing the right thing.”

With a growing number of parents finding incredible results using cannabis, it is hoped that researchers will continue to take notice. While the plant may not be the defining answer, it is a welcomed approach for so many parents desperate to help their children achieve a normal life.

TELL US, do you know anyone who’d used cannabis to treat ASD?

Rachelle Gordon is a Minneapolis-based writer and graduate of Hamline University. She enjoys writing about the many benefits of cannabis, and has particular interest in its potential in treating neurological conditions. When not writing, Rachelle enjoys watching The Price is Right and playing with her dogs, Fonzie and Puddy.

1 Comment

  1. James Weed

    August 6, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    medical cannabis works and i have many proofs for this fact.

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