Autism is a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in a handful of states, but Arizona won’t be among them anytime soon.
An administrative law judge in Phoenix has upheld the Arizona Department of Health Services’ denial of a petition to add autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to the list of debilitating conditions covered by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
'An Arizona judge ruled that advocates failed to failed to provide evidence that 'the use of marijuana will provide therapeutic benefit.'
The petition to include autism, the judge ruled, “failed to provide evidence that the use of marijuana will provide therapeutic or palliative benefit to an individual suffering from ASD.” The key determining factor, Judge Velva Moses-Thompson wrote in her opinion, was the lack of a “peer reviewed article that was published in a scientific journal.”
That decision leaves parents of autistic children in Arizona, some of whom are finding great benefit from specific formulations of high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil, in a bind. They can continue to treat their children with cannabis oil—and risk arrest, prosecution, and the loss of their children—or they can halt the cannabis treatment and let their children suffer.
What’s a Parent to Do?
“People have actually been prosecuted in our state for possessing cannabis oil,” which is typically the form of medicine given to children who are helped by medical cannabis, Brandy Williams told Leafly in a recent interview. Williams is the Arizona state director of MAMMA, Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, and was one of the three plaintiffs suing to overturn the state health department’s original denial of autism as a qualifying condition.
During the legal appeal, Williams testified that her son, Logan, now 8, has severe autism and inflammation. Before taking medical cannabis, Logan injured himself by shattering a glass window with his head, experienced abnormal eye movements, dealt with intense behavioral interventions, and had to have therapy several times a week. After beginning a treatment regimen that included medical marijuana, Williams said, her son calmed down, saw his speaking ability improve, and now attends a public school.
Anecdotal Evidence Isn’t Enough
While the judge did not discount the testimony of Williams and other parents, ultimately Moses-Thompson’s judgment rested on the lack of peer-reviewed scientific studies that directly tested the effects of medical cannabis on patients with autism. Because of the federal government’s ongoing campaign to severely restrict research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis, that sort of top-grade evidence has not been undertaken and published.
A number of studies are just now getting underway, including one by Dr. Ari Aran, the director of pediatric neurology at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital. Aran recently published a short abstract in the journal Neurologythat indicated much improvement in 61% of children with ASD who were treated with medical cannabis at a 20:1 CBD-to-THC ratio. (20 parts CBD to 1 part THC). That Neurology report was a small, retrospective study, though, and not a double-blind, placebo-controlled and peer-reviewed clinical experiment.
The full ruling is available via Scribd here. For more in-depth coverage about cannabis and the potential it may hold for autistic patients, see Tricia Romano’s full-length Leafly investigation, Cannabis and Autism: Here’s What the Science Says.