Cannabis now treating kids with autism

Cannabis now treating kids with autism

VicesJune 26, 2017 By Reilly Capps

When cannabis started to calms seizures in kids, many regular Americans came to accept it as a medicine. Now, it's finding a new use, one that could be even more widespread and more game-changing: treating kids on the autism spectrum.

Nicole Mattison's 13-year-old son, Neal, who is on the spectrum, was once impulsive and anxious, always getting in trouble at school and struggling to connect with people. "It's sad because that's your child, that's your baby," she says. It was then that Mattison started giving Neal a tincture of Charlotte's Web, a high CBD strain. Suddenly, Neal was a new kid; more engaged, calmer, happier. "His teacher is constantly saying, 'I can't believe this is the same kid that would throw a desk and stomp out of class,'" she continues.

Autism is common in America; it affects one in 68 kids. Parents are worn out by it, and desperate for treatments.

Rushing to understand the ways cannabis could help autism, one university just announced it’s begun studying it more. A bundle of scientific papers already support its use; and a company, GW Pharma — which brought the world's first cannabis plant-derived medicine to market in Europe — is testing CBD-V (a molecule very similar to CBD) as a treatment for Rett Syndrome. It's a serious form of autism that affects mostly girls.

It's working so far in rats, says Steve Schultz, vice president for investor relations at GW Pharma.

"This is super exciting on our end," Schultz says. "There are very few medicines (for these disorders). We hope to make a difference."

"There's 105 unique cannabinoids in the plant. We're only at the tip of the iceberg." - Dr. Paul Bregman

Autism's causes are mysterious. But autism might be, at least in part, the body’s innate endocannabinoid system getting out of whack, says John Matu, research coordinator at Realm of Caring, which advocates for kids and cannabis. The endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating mood, memory, social behavior and anxiety.

"The endocannabinoid system wasn't even discovered until the 1990s," says Matu. "Most doctors haven't been trained on it."

As doctors understand it better, there's hope for more cannabis breakthroughs, for kids and adults.

"There's 105 unique cannabinoids in the plant," says Dr. Paul Bregman, a cannabis consultant. "We're only at the tip of the iceberg."

There have been, Nicole Mattison says, no downsides to her kid using CBD for autism. But Bregman cautions that using cannabis on kids does come with risks.

"Some studies have shown that cannabis can negatively affect the developing brain of a child," Bregman says. "But if you have a kid that's suffering from bad signs and symptoms, and the doctors are loading him up with medicinals that aren't doing the trick, why not try?"

[Neal Mattison, 13, uses a high-CBD strain for his spectrum disorder. "He loves to read but usually needed to be bouncing, or moving in some way to be able to be calm enough to read," before trying Charlotte's Web, says his mother, Nicole. Photo courtesy of Nicole Mattison.]

Mattison is convinced. She's seen friends give Charlotte's Web to their kids who are on the spectrum, too, and she's seen positive results over and over again: less aggression, less stimming, better use of words, and — heartwarmingly — more eye contact.

"For a parents who haven't looked their kid in the eyes for years, it's phenomenal," she adds. "It's world changing."

If this keeps working, a once-demonized plant will make further inroads into everyday life, and more moms and dads will be making their families' lives better — and the world better — by giving their kids cannabis.