A recent study found evidence it could help, but many experts are skeptical.
Parents of children with severe autism spectrum disorder are looking more and more to medical marijuana as a potential treatment. But the issue raises tricky legal and ethical questions.
Even some experts remain conflicted.
Stories and anecdotal reports of medical marijuana’s ability to treat severe ASD frequently pop up in the media. You can read about the parents of Dylan, a child from Rhode Island (one of a handful of states that recognizes ASD as an indication for medical marijuana), who after trying every treatment for their son — from Ritalin to gluten and dairy free diets — arrived at cannabis.
According to an interview with NPR, Dylan’s behavior often causes problems both at school and at home. After beginning the regimen of cannabis oil, his behavior appears to improve. He’s easier to get along with and less angry.
Similar anecdotes to Dylan’s have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and other national news outlets. Grassroots organizations like Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism have formed, and groups of parents have banded together across social media — all for the sake of doing what is best for their children.
Despite anecdotal reports of marijuana’s ability to treat the most severe of ASD symptoms, the scientific evidence hasn’t clearly reached the same conclusion. Nor has it been demonstrated that giving medical cannabis to kids is safe.
But many families raising children with severe autism are desperate to look at every possible option.
“Autism is a devastating diagnosis. Families that have a child especially with a severe type of ASD are severely impacted and these parents are desperate looking for solutions, and I think that we have to be very cautious in what we recommend to them,” Dr.John Rogers Knight, founder and director emeritus of the Center for Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Research at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Healthline.
“When anything comes along and we start getting anecdotal reports of miraculous improvement, it’s going to be very appealing to people,” he said.