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Article: Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism?

Here's an interesting article which could spark some debate.

Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism?
by Lisa Jo Rudy

I don't think that there's any doubt that "social lubricants" such as drugs and alcohol can make it easier for aspies to temporarily overcome their social problems. It's also true that sometimes these can help them to relax or function better outside of social situations.

Ritalin itself is a stimulant, as is caffeine and nicotine, marijuana (cannabis) isn't clearly defined as either a stimulant or depressant - it has both qualities.

In fact, it's quite common for children to be given ritalin and/or coffee and coke. Less common I think for parents to actually encourage smoking. Marijuana has been shown to have positive effects on depression.

Both Alcohol and Smoking have greater addicition and provide greater physical harm than marijuana but does that actually suggest that it's worthwhile using? In particular, the article refers to a mother who gives marijuana to her 9 year old son for medicinal purposes. It's hard to make a judgement call on something like that.

One thing that it clear however is that these drugs don't act on the autism itself but rather on the symptoms and co-conditions. Ritalin, for example, has no effect on autism or aspergers but does affect adhd. Similarly anti-depressants don't affect the autistic condition, only the symptom of depression.


Lisa Jo Rudy said…
I didn't write this. I think it may be a comment on the piece I did write, which essentially just pointed to existing articles and asked people about their opinions.

Lisa Rudy
Gavin Bollard said…
My apologies Lisa. It was your article which attracted my attention though - and a very thought-provoking piece it was.
Gavin Bollard said…
BTW: For anyone reading the comments, the original? article is here;

Medical Marijuana For Kids With Autism
Stat Mama said…
Actually, marijuana contains more tar than tobacco, so I don't think the risks are any less severe than smoking cigarettes. Well, unless you consider that cigarettes are usually smoked in much greater quantity/more frequently.

I think using marijuana to take the edge off of autism is the same thing as self-medicating with alcohol. Not a good idea.
Emma from Facebook said…
I have tried a very weeny tiny amount of pot very rarely. I wouldn't see it as a specific treatment, but I wouldn't say prescription medicines are either. For myself I really see a number of things as an overall treatment - sleep, diet, exercise, and I think the same could be said for treating children with ASD's.

In my case the times I did use it - it was a good stress release after having a very stressful time. Sometimes with Asperger's I feel as though I am in a cage, and having something to relax can help that feeling go away.
SavedAspie said…
Interesting. I'm curious how this works in practice, since most aspies I know personally respond negatively to other mood-altering substances like alcohol.
Beastinblack said…
I like the sound of that!
Unknown said…
No troubles, Gavin. Just wanted to be sure you guys knew what I was actually writing...

Anonymous said…
As a teenager, before I knew I was an Aspie, I smoked pot. After awhile I was paranoid and had extreme levels of anxiety. I stopped because of these unpleasant side effects.
eaucoin said…
When I was in high school (in the early 70s), the school brought in (allegedly) former druggies to speak to us about the hazards of drug use. Someone asked about the residual effects, and we were told that short-term memory is still a problem long after marijuana use stops. I have always had such a problem with my short-term memory that I wouldn't have dared to mess with it. Not that anybody believes me, given that I was in high school in the early 70s.
Anonymous said…
"One thing that is clear however is that these drugs don't act on the autism itself but rather on the symptoms and co-conditions"
in my opinion, this is absolutely true and rather obvious, seeing as autism is not an illness. so how could anything be used to "treat" it? i've been smoking marihuana on and off for 14 years and have never had any addiction issues. i find it very easy to stop and start as i please. but that's me and i've seen enough other people handle it very differently to know that marihuana is not for everyone. i see no harm in taking the edge off autism by smoking a little pot, just as i see no harm in taking the edge off everyday life by going out for a drink on a friday night. used moderately, marihuana is not necessarily destined to ruin your life.
generally speaking, i'm not a fan of ritalin, anti-depressants or sleeping pills, as this seems to me to be treating symptoms rather than underlying issues, there are howerver certain cases where these things are needed to provide a working basis for some other form of therapy to be effective. so why not use marihuana in the same way? i can confirm that in my case, it helps calm me down after overload, it has prevented complete meltdowns, it's more efficient than alcohol in letting me cope with social situations such as parties (especially with loud music) because i'm not as proned to make a fool of myself seeing as my awareness is higher on marihuana than alcohol. sometimes it also helps me to stop my brain from rambling when i'm trying to get to sleep. although i'm fairly sure there are many alternatives out there (Rachel's weighted blanket as an example probably does pretty much the same job for her as a small joint for me) when it comes down to it, i think people should do whatever works for them, as long as nobody - including themselves - gets harmed in the process. it seems to me the only reason there's a debate in this case is because (for various quite strange reasons) marihuana is illegal. these days, giving ritalin to children has become widely accepted as it has proven to be quite effective in reducing symptoms of adhd - even though ritalin too is a mind-altering drug. so why not marihuana, which btw can also be given in form of cookies etc, if it has a positive effect? what i do strongly disapprove of is people giving it to their children without consulting a doctor, just as i would disapprove of someone giving their child ritalin - or any other type of strong medication for that matter - without consulting a doctor.
Anonymous said…
I has ASD and I tried Ritilin and I would have to say this article is wrong when it says that Ritilin has no effects on ASD. The Ritilin shut down my highly tuned senses which I rely on, it deadened my world. It did shut out the noise (audio and visual) that sometimes leads me to meltdown. The main thing it did was make me realise some of the positives of having ASD. I struggled without my acute senses and have really come to value them after only trying Ritilin for a day.
Gavin Bollard said…
My apologies for the confusion. Ritalin is intended to affect some of the symptoms commonly associated with asd's, in particular ADHD/ADD.

It cannot change Aspergers/Autism (ASDs) for the same reason that these cannot be "cured". It's not an illness - it's a structural difference.

That's not to say that drugs cannot alter, at least temporarily, behaviour. They certainly can.

Ritalin and other drugs including narcotics shouldn't be used for medicinal purposes directed against autism. Only against some of the more controllable symptoms of the condition, and even then, only on doctor's orders.
Rock said…
This is not in response to your post. Rather, I'm just reaching out as an Aspergian. I just got fired from a great job due to mistakes I've made stemming from my Asperger's syndrome. Again. It might be too late for me, I don't know. This time, I might be homeless for the first time in my life (age 62). I am a genius, Mensa certified, but socially inept at times. Technical writer, and writer, and political activist. I hope I can get myself out of this newest mess. Great blog. Thanks. Email me at

Anonymous said…
i had the same reaction to pot as the other "anonymous" did. i smoked it in high school--why, i'm not sure. but it did heighten my anxiety and withdrawal. i wonder if it's another "quirky" reaction to drugs i tend to have. i can't always predict how something will affect me. (caffeine used to soothe me when i was very young--pre-adolescent. now it sends me through the roof. :)
Chris Lareau said…
Parent training may be more important than drugs. See this article at

It's about how training parents may work better than using risperidone.
Gavin Bollard said…
Thanks Chris,

That's a good article. I wish it was a tad more conclusive (the gains weren't huge and both groups used medication) but it certainly makes the point that parent training is important.

It's a sad fact of life that by the time we become really great parents (by virtue of our experience), our children are already grown up.
Rafael Pozos said…
I'm a self diagnosed aspie and have tried marijuana (for other reasons) and it didn't seem to have an effect one way or the other for me. I was on the other hand put on prozac and risperdone and all they did was dull my thinking and senses. I did not get the retraining I needed and have suffered for it.
Hannah Miet said…
I just found your blog and spent the past hour reading younger brother has Asperger's and I am so happy I discovered you, especially since medical marijuana is something I always wondered about.
Vanessa Suzanne said…
I am an aspie who has used marijuana, alcohol, and antidepressants.
I find that if anything, marijuana makes social interaction more difficult. Smoking m seems to make me overanalyze things and sometimes cause anxiety. When many of us get anxious in social situations to begin with, using a substance that can increase this only makes it worse. This makes it harder to open up, especially when around people whom you don't know very well or aren't fully comfortable around for whatever reason. Increased anxiety can lead to paranoia over social interactions (how your communicating, people's intentions, etc).

An antidepressant, though it worked at curing symptoms (I was much less fidgety and more focused on schoolwork), lead to severe anxiety. At this point in my life, I was having a lot of problems to begin with, so I would worry. Cymbalta caused my worrying to erupt into full-blown panic, which eventually lead to self-mutilation. I do not suggest messsing with these drugs.

As for alcohol, a few beers every here and there are good for keeping anybody sane. So hey, go for it. Just don't waste away all your brain cells.
Anonymous said…
I find it helpful amongst other hemp-users, as it makes me more like a quirky-but-normal stoned person, rather than a somewhat odd non-stoned person.

For those concerned about smoking, cookery is an option.
Warren said…
Aspies and Autistics are inpeded by the brains inability to deal with the overwhelming intake of information due to their low latent inhibition. Marajuana further lowers latent inhibition. As a middle age Aspie who was a pot head up until 21 years of age, marajuana only amplyfies the the adverse symptoms.
Anonymous said…
it is more than possible that an aspie will become obsessed with marijuana
Anonymous said…
I've learned that marijuana can cause psychosis, so I'd be very, very careful with using medical marijuana.
Anonymous said…
i am just beginning to learn about aspergers. other members in my family have been "diagnosed" with it and aspergers would explain me perfectly. i used to use alcohol when i was younger and that helped in social situations but led to a great deal of trouble. i began smoking marijuana several years ago and i completely quit drinking. marijuana helps me deal with social situations, calms me, helps me focus, helps me sleep and many other positive things. the health issues from smoking marijuana are completely irrelevant with the invention of the vaporizer though i do prefer to smoke it. what is so wrong with using a substance that makes someone feel good? i believe the old stereotypes about pot are coming into play here. most people still believe that weed is a "dumb-down" drug when it is in reality quite the opposite. alcohol is the most widely used social "dumb-down" drug and fluoride has been know for a long time to dumb people down irreversibly. since aspergers is a structural condition and not an illness, there is no cure because there is nothing to cure. i have a well above average IQ, can play almost any instrument, taught myself how to use Linux and learned python scripting on my own. pot helps me focus on these things. i think it is quite selfish of people who don't understand to tell me that i shouldn't smoke pot because they don't like me when i'm high. that's like telling me they would rather see me miserable and unable to function. if it is bad for you personally then don't use it, it really is that simple. but don't tell someone else that they can't have something that helps them, even if you can't understand how it helps them. most of the people i know say i'm better when i'm high and they can see a difference in me when i'm not.
Anonymous said…
there are a great many lies and misunderstandings posted in these responses. marijuana does not cause psychosis. it does not cause brain cell loss. it is not a dumb-down drug. these are opinions posted by anti drug activists, people who have no experience with marijuana, people who have had a bad experience with marijuana, and a few obvious trolls. everyone is different. if it is not for you then don't use it. it, personally, helps me a great deal and i am much worse when i don't have it. caffeine and alcohol are two very addictive and dangerous drugs and people use and abuse them on a daily basis. do not judge me for trying to help myself.
AndyM said…
Whilst I may not have the most severe aspergers, I can wholly agree that since begining my use of cannabis several months ago, social interaction has become a lot more tolerable. Outside of social situations though, it helps calm my mind and bring life into focus.

I won't lie though, if I overdo it and I'm not with close friends I get anxious about the way I'm moving and composing myself because I'm aware that I'm a little inhibited, though this is only caused by the drug not dumbing me down and not taking away from my self awareness, but this feeling is more severe when I'm uninhibited.

This negative isn't to do with the drug itself, but the way people react. God I wish I could just fucking tell people I have aspergers and not have them misunderstand why I use it.
Anonymous said…
This isnt true at all. I have aspergers and smoking pot really messed me up. It has turned me into a hermit and i am seriously having problems with quitting it.
As soon as i started smoking that terrible substance on a regular basis i lost all of my freinds. For the last two years, i have smoked multiple times a day every day and it made me lose all of my social ability.
Even when im not high i avoid talking to people now. In fact, i am writing this in my high school library during lunch, sitting by myself.
I cannot even have a normal conversation with people anymore, im just a depressed wreck with no self esteem now. Its a serious problem, and i need to stop.

Aspergers and cannabis are a very bad mix
Anonymous said…
Hi All. I'm Scott.

I've used marijuanna to help me with the social issues. I can go from nearly incapable of going to anything that has the slightest issue in my head to outright enthusiasm on it (nearly).. Sadly I learnt that there is a risk of becoming quite attached (not addicted). You do get a desire to feel so comfortable every day, especially when your aspergers is a near constant obstacle.

I've decided to take a month's break. After which I plan to use it purely to help me when I need to do social occasions.

I think moderated use of Sativa strains can help with enthusiasm and maintaining excitement for events which would normally cause worry and stress.

Indica strain cannabis was incredibly useful during times of emotional explosion and obsessive thinking.

Though I don't see it helping in the long term, as coming down from marijuana after much use can actually increase depression. But I can't tell whether that's just a result of experiencing life with less aspergers, then going back to having more. So be always prepared that you will return to the struggle.

I also use buddhist meditation to maintain a simplistic and rational mind-space, and marijuana can kind of damage that rational mind-space if it's abused.

Anonymous said…
My Aspie hubbie, has left me and clocked out on marijuana. He is obsessed with it and believes that it helps his creativity, and too relax, although nothing good has come of its use that I can see. His life is a mess because of it. I am his second wife, his first left him because of its use. This I was unaware of, as well as his idea that drugs are the best thing about life. I have found that marijuana and other drugs, change him. When he is straight, he is perfect in all his quirky glory, intelligent, fun, cute, amazing caring and loved me. I wish he would stop, as it is a great loss, for me and I believe him too. I miss him dearly. I also feel that it is the worlds loss too.
Helio-Soul said…
I've been struggling with Anxiety, OCD and Severe depression for almost as long as I can remember. Only now after 10 years of self and medical evaluation have I been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Over the course of bettering myself and my mental and physical well being through different courses of therapy and medications; in my own resolve, Marijuana seems to be the safest choice, for relieving my anxiety, being able to focus, and actually feel emotion. My body has high tolerance to drugs, and at first weed only caused more anxiety in public due to how I may look or be percieved as someone who is just "stoned". But it's power to eliminate hyper thinking and social anxiety kept me wondering, if I continue smoking it will I be able to tame it? And so I learned that CBD and sativa strains are non psychoactive and don't cause you anxiety. It is what kids may call "day weed" as opposed to the Higher THC quantities in Indica strains. One of the reasons why I'm interested in the idea of medical marijuana is also due to a concern for my own health. I've recently been on paxil peroxitine 60mg max daily dose and a new study just came out saying it has adverse effects and can potentially worsen depression which verified my concerns with the medication. I know that what I need is a stimulant rather than an ssri long term medication or maybe a combo of both but depression is a bitch, and my will to live fluctuates with each subtle difference in my life. I don't have a history of self harming or overdosing but its so easy to do exactly that. You can't over dose on marijuana. Also I'm a cig smoker but i even feel less of a desire to smoke cigs when I smoke weed. I'd rather smoke like 2 joints a day, one in the day and one to sleep than 15 cigs. I'm a 25 year old male living in Ontario, Canada.
Anonymous said…

I smoked cannabis for 3 months, mostly strong strains 3 days or so a week on and off.
It helped me combat anxiety sometimes, but sometimes it flipped totally in the opposite direction.
The social dependence is not a good thing at all.

Eventually I ended up in psychiatric hospital with psychosis, and no, I couldn't have seen it coming and just stopped.

Its hard to scientifically prove, but guess what I'm now living proof. There was no doubt that the cannabis caused the psychosis.

2 years later I am still recovering and fighting suicidal thoughts. I had no previous mental health issues. I have Aspergers Syndrome, which made the experience of psychosis and hospitalization much much worse.

Don't make this mistakes just for a high.

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