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What can medical cannabis do for autism in children?

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The use of medical cannabis in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is becoming increasingly popular, as medical cannabis gains more traction as a mainstream option.

But what can medical cannabis do for children with ASD? A recent literature review from Minnesota State University looked at the current research available, concluding that medical cannabis use is greatly beneficial for people with ASD. 

Generally, people with ASD usually experience repetitive and restrictive sensory-motor behaviour and social and communication issues. Sometimes, people with autism also experience behavioural problems (like self-injury, irritability, and aggression) and comorbid conditions (like depression, anxiety, ADHD, epilepsy, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and sleep disorders). 

These experiences are generally managed with therapy or conventional medications – however, this doesn’t work for everyone. 

In the literature review, researcher Mai Xiong looked at three studies and one case report. In all four cases, a small group of people with autism used medical cannabis with a CBD: THC ratio of 20:1 (THC is cannabis’s primary psychoactive component). 

Xiong found that across all studies, participant’s social and communication issues and sensory-motor issues improved. In one study, this improvement was 30 – 47%, while in another study of 188 people, tics improved up to 80%. 

Medical cannabis was also shown to decrease self-injury and rage behaviours of people with autism. Across three studies, this improvement ranged from 61% to 89.8%. Here, Xiong notes that improvements in behaviour could result from the third thing the study analysed: improvements in the comorbid conditions experienced by people with autism. 

While not every study monitored improvements in autism’s common comorbid conditions, medical cannabis did improve the conditions that were included. Here’s a breakdown of the general improvements:

  • Anxiety improved 23.5% – 88.8% across the studies
  • Children with epilepsy were found to take fewer medications between 13 – 33% of the time
  • Sleep improved 58.6% – 71.4% across the studies. Some participants also slept 1 – 2 hours longer in one study
  • Concentration in people with ADHD increased 14% – 64.8%

As a result of these findings, Xiong believes that the “potential benefits” of medical cannabis make it a substance with great potential. 

The potential benefits identified in these studies strongly support further research and consideration of medical cannabis as an adjunct treatment…

However, before we can properly understand how people with autism can benefit from medical cannabis, we need more support for research.

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