The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is growing substantially, but does the use of medical marijuana for autism cross the line?

Medical marijuana has been used for a variety of health conditions to mixed reception in the medical world. Many professionals tout the benefits of medical marijuana, while others dismiss widespread claims about its benefits. The use of medical marijuana for autism is one topic that has garnered a significant amount of controversy involving three main factors:

  • Marijuana’s history as a recreational drug
  • The potential use of this drug for children’s conditions
  • The relatively unknown long-term implications of use.

Medications Traditionally Used to Treat Autism

Traditional treatments for autism have been successful in helping manage symptoms for some. However, results can vary significantly, as is the case when treating any condition that involves behavioral and emotional regulation and neurological anomalies.

Currently, few autism medications exist, and there is no cure for the condition. Medications that are prescribed to people with autism are often used to treat specific symptoms, like insomnia, depression or seizures. The only autism medication for children currently approved by the Federal Drug Administration is Risperdal.

Does Marijuana Help Autism?

There are many anecdotal accounts of people with autism benefiting from marijuana use. Children like Dylan of Rhode Island have had better results from the use of cannabis than any other medication. Dylan’s parents shared their story with National Public Radio, expressing the radical changes they witnessed in Dylan after he began taking cannabis oil. These changes have been life-changing for Dylan and enable him to have better success at school and in social situations. However, skeptics are concerned about the long-term effects of THC on children with autism. Further studies are being conducted in the United States to assess medical marijuana’s effectiveness and safety for managing autism symptoms.

Autism and CBD Oil

The use of cannabidiol or CBD oil for autism has convincing potential that merits more study. So many positive responses have emerged from the use of CBD oil that an advocacy group called Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) spanning seven states was formed. An observational study at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is currently being conducted to determine the legitimacy of these claims.

Side Effects and Risks

All medicinally-based treatments come with inherent risks. Like any treatment, there are some CBD oil risks associated with use. General side effects from CBD may include drowsiness, dry mouth and fatigue. Some people may also experience loss of appetite and diarrhea. Additional reported side effects that are more extreme can include depression, dizziness, hallucinations, low blood pressure, and withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability and insomnia.

With this wide variety of possible side effects, it makes sense for people to exercise caution when using CBD to treat autism. It’s crucial that all risks and benefits of this treatment method are evaluated before it begins.

Studying the Effects of Marijuana on Autism

Medical marijuana and autism research has shown potential benefits from certain chemical compositions in cannabis for individuals with autism. These early studies are based on animal research. Additional studies are taking place at University of California Irvine Medical Center. In countries like the Netherlands, Canada and Israel, the government sponsors medical cannabis programs due to these positive and promising results.

The Decision for Parents: Using Medical Marijuana for Children with Autism

Deciding to use medical marijuana to help children with autism can be difficult. Parents must grapple with the various risks and benefits associated with using marijuana for medical purposes. The decision to participate in this treatment method should be made strategically and after consultation with a trusted medical professional. While there are some clear behavioral benefits from the use of medical marijuana for autism, these must be weighed against any potential side effects or long-term risks.

In rare cases, using medical marijuana can lead to marijuana dependence or addiction. If you or someone you know lives with co-occurring autism and marijuana addiction, professional substance use treatment can help. Reach out to The Recovery Village today for more information.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Paula Holmes
Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Mammoser, Gigen. “Here’s What Experts Say About Medical […]reatment for Autism.”, February 12, 2019. Accessed March 18, 2019.

Autism Parenting Magazine. “The Benefits of Medical Marijuana and CBD Oil for Autism.” (nd). Accessed March 18, 2019.

Cherney, Kristeen. “Cbd oil benefits list.” April 10, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2019.

Schwartz, Yardena. “Marijuana may be a miracle treatment for[…]children with autism.” April 25, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Siniscalco, Dario. “Endocannabinoid System as Novel Therapeu[…]Autism Treatment.” Autism-Open Access. 2014; 4:2. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Ripley, Eve. “Israeli Study on CBD and Autism Underway.” Medical Marijuana, Inc. May 22, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.