Benefits of Medical Marijuana and Autism to Be Studied

Children’s Hospital will study medical marijuana’s effect on children with autism

An upcoming study at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will be the first of its kind in the United States to examine the benefits of medical marijuana in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study is in partnership with an Australian biopharmaceutical company called Zelda Therapeutics, who will be funding the study.

Athena Zupp, the director of Children’s Hospital’s Center for Clinical Pharmacology, told that “the hospital will not provide any cannabis products to children. This is truly an observational study. We’re not giving them anything. We’re just gathering data to educate ourselves.” The researchers will be working with children who are already covered under Pennsylvania’s Safe Harbor Provision. (Wood, 2017) The study is expected to begin early this year.

Benefits of Medical Marijuana and Autism to Be Studied

Can Medical Marijuana Treat Autism Symptoms?

Many parents of autistic children are advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana to help treat some of the symptoms of autism including reducing anxiety, self-injurious behaviors, sleep dysregulation, and trouble with social interactions.

Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) is a parent advocacy group with chapters in seven U.S. states (Arizona, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Iowa, and Illinois). MAMMA’s goal is to give all children with autism legal access to medical marijuana under the care of a physician. The group’s website provides testimonials from 10 families who claim marijuana has greatly helped their child’s symptoms. Several of these families testimonials consider themselves “medical refugees” moving across state lines so their children will be eligible for the use of medical marijuana for seizures and other qualifying conditions. Other families submitted testimonials anonymously and say they will continue to use marijuana illegally until legislation is passed in their states or autism is considered a qualifying condition. Most of the testimonials praise marijuana for helping their children reduce self-injurious behaviors and regulate their moods and sleep, with some families claiming that the plant reduced their child’s seizures, a common co-occurring symptom of autism. The families affiliated with MAMMA and other similar groups say medical marijuana alleviates their child from the side effects of traditional pharmaceuticals sometimes prescribed for children with autism including antipsychotic medications.

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Medications traditionally used to help children with ASD

In a study published in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, atypical antipsychotics are described as, “indispensable in the treatment of a variety of symptoms in autism.” The study examines the efficacy of haloperidol and risperidone for treating the behavioral symptoms commonly associated with autism including aggression, anger, and self-injurious behaviors. It concludes that the medications can alleviate these behaviors when behavioral interventions are ineffective, but warns that potential side effects must be considered and weighed. The most common side effects listed include weight gain, hyperprolactinemia (elevated serum prolactin), sedation, adverse cognitive effects, and tardive dyskinesia (involuntary, repetitive body movements). (Posey, Stigler, Erickson, & McDougle, 2008) While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved these medications for use in children with autism, some parents are still wary of these potential side effects.

International studies focus on children and medical marijuana

In January 2017, Dr. Aran, the director of the neuro-pediatric unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, spearheaded the inaugural clinical trial to determine medical marijuana’s effects on children with autism. The study followed 120 children and young adults with autism as they received cannabidiol (CBD) oil. This compound contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is high in cannabinoids and is not psychoactive, therefore children receiving the oil did not feel “high.” Dr. Aran hopes to take the guesswork out of how medical marijuana helps children with autism so that they can be treated with more precision and lower risk of potential unknown effects with prolonged use. The results of this study are expected to be released in the coming months.

How to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana for autism

Parents interested in advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana in their area or having autism listed as a qualifying condition can do so in a variety of ways. Contacting your local representatives via email, phone call, or setting up a meeting is an important step in letting your government know that it is an important issue to you. The more hospitals conduct studies of the impact of medical marijuana on children with autism, the more information will be available to parents and lawmakers. Encouraging hospitals to begin their own studies and trials is crucial in gathering the information needed to learn more. Finally, joining a group like MAMMA could help you stay informed on new studies and advocacy opportunities.

Wood, S. (2017, December 11). Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to study medical marijuana and autism. Retrieved 2018, from

Posey, D. J., Stigler, K. A., Erickson, C. A., & McDougle, C. J. (2008, January 02).

Antipsychotics in the treatment of autism. Retrieved from

Katherine G. Hobbs is a freelance journalist and university student studying English, with an emphasis on journalism, and psychology. She is interested in the impact of having a special needs child on the family dynamic. Katherine is dedicated to bringing awareness of resources to families and providing help to those who love their autistic children. You can find her online at

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Derek Dewitt - February 27, 2018 Reply

I never realized that marijuana was used to help children with autism until I read this. I like that you mention how it can help control behaviors like anger and self-injury. I have a friend with a son who has autism that gets upset often, so I wonder if they have considered this as a medical alternative.

    Elizabeth Hickey - March 15, 2018 Reply

    I am wanting to also try this with my son. I strongly believe it will help him and benefut his future.

Elizabeth Hickey - March 15, 2018 Reply

I am wanting to also try this with my son. I strongly believe it will help him and benefut his future.

Jumar Lalas - March 16, 2018 Reply

Personally, I think the use of Marijuana is a varied discussion. I’ve lost a friend and a daughter on it, as they isolate. I used to live in a 55 and older Mobile Home court, and the people there who used it were often erratic or just didn’t take care of everyday issues. There is a danger just like medicating with any drug, of side effects, but what concerns me, is once again people want to treat symptoms vs. the cause. For example, Kris Kristofferson’s Alzheimer’s Disease, misdiagnosed, which was Lyme, and once treated for that, he comes out of the Alz. Lyme for instance mimics many diseases like MS, Chronic Fatigue, Parkinson’s, etc. It doesn’t help that one inept Govt. sponsored group wants to limit ‘treatment’ to 28 days of antibiotics that will not kill the spirochete and it’s 6 forms, and prosecute docs that treat patients more than that. I believe it is a form of Population Control.

    ERIN - April 5, 2018 Reply

    Jumar Lalas
    For many of us with children who pound themselves in the head and cant explain why, we don’t have the luxury of waiting on the cause of ASD we HAVE to treat the symptoms. Anecdotal evidence from other parents is worth it and being backed by chop gives ME hope.

    Kevin Lynch - August 29, 2018 Reply

    You are, at best, insane.

Marjorie Spaeth - April 17, 2018 Reply

What about lower functioning Autism in adults with significant behavior issues. Is it affective for a PRN or to take daily. We will take any help we can get.

    homay - April 27, 2018 Reply

    Yes. Try Prana’s P3 Tincture. it has a 1:1 CBD/THCA ratio and it has done wonders for us. about 20 to 30 mg a day should help with improving the symptoms.

      Dana M Galvan - May 12, 2018 Reply

      Can you contact me? I need more information about this…

    Joan - June 6, 2018 Reply

    I am desperate for my daughter. I have read the research and am convinced it could help. And if not, what I lost. Like you Marjorie I have a daughter with severe behavior issues and she is very low functioning. we have tried every single medication known to the medical field to no avail or sustainable solution. If you don’t walk in our shoes, you don’t know the toll, stress and never ending struggle families encounter. I have been doing this for 37 years. It’s worth a try.

Sheryl - July 31, 2018 Reply

I have a cousin with autism. I wanna suggest him this. Is there any side effects?

    Edna - August 1, 2018 Reply

    Hello Sheryl, thanks for your comment.

    Medication affects people in all different ways so we would suggest your cousin to sit down with his/her doctor and discuss the possible side effects of medical marijuana. Hope your cousin gets the answers he/she needs.

Erwin - August 21, 2018 Reply

How to sensibly buy LEGAL cbd oil that can help manage autism symptoms? Because I got a letter saying customs has confiscated my package two times already and I’m pissed.

    Edna - August 31, 2018 Reply

    Hello Erwin,
    I’m so sorry to hear you’re having trouble purchasing your oil. If you live in the USA, I would suggest checking out your state’s laws. If CBD oil is legal, there is probably a place you can buy it in-person to avoid the customs headache. Your issues may also be with the seller of the oil. Be sure you are purchasing from a reputable seller who’s product is cleared for use in your area. Good luck!

Lisa Stone - September 23, 2018 Reply

I would love to try this on my daughter my problem Is that I don’t know what to buy in a don’t know anything about doses…I just want to get her off the medication…asd..anxiety..adhd

    Edna - September 24, 2018 Reply

    Thanks so much for your comment. We suggest you talk to your child’s pediatrician or family doctor about your concerns regarding the medication dosage. Hope your next appointment goes well and you get the answers you need.

Jennifer Smith - December 29, 2018 Reply

Autistic patients will greatly benefit from cannabis!

Karen Page - January 4, 2019 Reply

I pray that further studies using medical cannabis will result in positive autistic treatment. Nice post!

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