Talking Autism Spectrum Disorder and Medical Marijuana; Using an “inside-out” rather than an “outside-in” approach may help gain legitimacy in the larger Autism community.
April is National Autism Awareness month AND the biggest cannabis awareness day (granted, that is a very generous description) falls on April 20th. Despite the proximity of these two days, the official Autism community ( read: well-funded non-profits) are still adverse to embracing cannabis as an even a palliative for some of the more brutal manifestations of Autism Spectrum Disorder. For example,
the Autism Society website reveals NO results for marijuana (as if curious parents could not just go to Dr. Google to find information) and Autism Speaks has a somewhat informative but skeptical article, advising parents that there is not enough research to make a medically sound choice. There is a host of parent Facebook groups, like Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA), are leading the charge by posting hundreds of accounts of success using cannabis. YouTube has 66,000 hits of people illustrating or discussing how marijuana use has helped. Perhaps if we talk about marijuana or marijuana use in a different way, we can get traction in the larger community and assist those who need it most.
Rather than focusing on cannabis per se, we should place emphasis on the relationship of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) to Autism Spectrum Disorder. This rhetorical shift from a focus on the plant – “outside in” – to a focus first on what is happening in the body -“inside out” – can accomplish several things:
Unhook treatment of ASD from the ‘drug war’ stigma that still colors the discussion among autism advocates.
Put emphasis on research of the ECS system, including nutritional, environmental, and developmental aspects of the ECS and autism. Opening up a large area of investigation that is closed off if one uses the “outside in” argument of cannabis advocates.
Use the term “your body’s marijuana” to describe anandamide and 2-AG. Most people let down their guard when they find out their body makes similar compounds to those discovered in the cannabis plant. Explain that the key to alleviating ASD symptoms is to first facilitate the production of our body’s marijuana before giving the patients the real thing.
Address cannabis or CBD use after discussing the other options mentioned above. This framework allows the person to integrate cannabis use into a wider spectrum of treatment for Autism and also contextualizes the treatment regarding the human body and brain rather than focusing on a historically demonized plant.