Medical marijuana is being used to help numerous medical conditions in the growing number of states that have passed legislation to use marijuana medicinally. New conditions and diseases are being reviewed daily and panels are trying to determine if medical marijuana would be medicinally beneficial in these cases. Very recently, the debate to use medical marijuana with people that have autism has made headlines. Common ground was not easy to find.
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, which means that it affects people in a variety of ways. It is a complex brain development disorder that may adversely affect verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and behaviors. More obvious signs and symptoms emerge in children between the ages of two and three and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 68 American children are identified as being on the autism spectrum. It is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls.
Currently, the medications that are often prescribed to individuals that have autism deal with the behavioral consequences of the disorder, and not the disorder itself. Additionally, the pharmaceuticals that are often prescribed to deal with the aggression, anxiety, compulsions and attention problems associated with ASD can have some unfavorable side-effects. Some believe that medical marijuana can provide benefits like the pharmaceuticals, without the side-effects that stem from some of the prescribed pharmaceuticals. In 2000, researchers at the University of California at Irvin revealed that medical marijuana could be used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, schizophrenia, and autism.
Medical marijuana is legal in almost half of the Unites States, but leaders still can’t agree on its benefits for individuals with autism. Michigan could have been the first state to approve the use of medical marijuana for patients with autism, but once again, the fight to approve the drug for patients with autism was lost. This decision is not only a set back for advocates of using medicinal marijuana to benefit patients with autism, it is also a setback for advocates in states that may consider adding other behavioral problems, like ADHD, to the list of approved conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana.
A key factor in all of this is the lack of research showing the long term benefits of using medical marijuana for such conditions. More studies need to be funded and completed in order for more people to side with the use of medicinal marijuana. Although there is a lack of research citing the benefits of medical marijuana, there is more research available that suggests that marijuana use can negatively affect the developing brain in young patients. The scarcity of data showing positive outcomes from using medical marijuana on young patients is a primary reason that it is not being approved for trials. It is a catch 22. The lack of evidence dissuades attempts, and the lack of attempts and consequential data minimizes opportunity for medicinally beneficial uses.