Why is autism excluded from medical cannabis treatments in Ohio when conditions associated with it are not?

Pictured is Tiffany Carwile, President and Director of advocacy of the Autism Alliance of Ohio and state chapter Director Ohio MAMMA (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism), with her two children Kaidi (9) and Jaxsyn (5). Jaxsyn was diagnosed in 2016 with severe low-functioning autism, with symptoms including, but not limited to, seizures, bouts of unfocused aggression, adherence to repetitive behaviors, delayed speech, non-verbal, GI and bowel-related issues, extreme anxiety and insomnia, among others.

My name is Tiffany Carwile, and I am the founder and director of advocacy for the Autism Alliance of Ohio. At the end of last year, I submitted a 500-page petition to the State Medical Board of Ohio in support of listing autism as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis treatment.

Rife with scientific evidence, medical research and supporting data, I was able to obtain letters of support from medical professionals and specialists, including expert testimony, in support of my petition. 

No pharmaceutical pill can safely or effectively treat the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Antipsychotics risperidone and aripiprazole are the only two medications that are FDA approved to treat irritability in ASD. Individuals with ASD are often prescribed a variety of antidepressants, anxiolytics, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines as well as stimulants in off-label, untested combinations to treat symptoms.

These drugs have serious, and sometimes possibly fatal side effects. When given in combination, risk of harm increases significantly, meaning their life expectancy decreases even further when exposed to these medications.

Autistic individuals are 2.5 times more likely to die than neurotypical people, with an average life expectancy of 36 years vs. the general populous at 72 years of age. That is very unsettling news for us as parents. My now 5-year-old son was diagnosed in 2016 with severe, low functioning autism.

The three main killers of our kids include seizures, suicide and heart-related issues. All three are side effects of the FDA-approved medications including suicidal thoughts, seizures and heart complications such as arrhythmias, heart failure and sudden death.

We need to look at what we can do to improve the quality of life for people with autism in Ohio. The cost of not doing so is ultimately addiction and death. We must urge those in the medical community, as well as the general population, to change how they observe and treat autism.

How can cannabis treat a complex condition like autism?

The key is in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which represents a network of lipid-signaling pathways in the human brain regulating many, or all, of the pathways that are dysregulated by ASD.

Research from Stanford University shows that children with ASD have lower plasma levels of anandamide. Anandamide is the endocannabinoid that mimics THC in the body and plays a role in learning, memory, social functioning, easing anxiety and other functions.

Given the known role of the ECS system and the documented deficit of anandamide in people living with ASD, it seems entirely possible, if not likely, that cannabinoid-rich botanical extracts from cannabis can be utilized as useful agents for targeting the pathology of ASD, as well as many debilitating symptoms associated with it.

We believe that families and physicians should have the authorized right to explore these options without fear of legal repercussions, despite their age or the severity of an autism spectrum diagnosis.

We at the Autism Alliance of Ohio are parents of children with autism, and we are interested in legally pursuing medicinal cannabis as a safe, effective and therapeutic treatment option for our children. 

To that end, we are here to advocate for the legalization of therapeutic cannabis, to educate families, doctors, legislators and the general public about its many benefits. We exist to give help and hope to parents interested in its medicinal application. We believe in our right to legally access the all-natural plant cannabis in its entirety and in all its various medicinal forms. We advocate qualifying conditions for cannabis therapeutics, include a diagnosis of autism and comorbid conditions.

There is strong and substantial scientific evidence that supports the use of medical cannabis as a safe, viable treatment for autism spectrum disorder. There are several Ohio physicians and scientists who agree and have provided expert testimony on the matter.

Moreover, a bevy of states and territories — 17 in total, including Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Texas, Illinois and the territory of Puerto Rico — have all permitted autism as a qualifying condition for their medical cannabis programs, pediatric patients included.

An additional seven other states and territories — California, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. — have also all recognized autism as a debilitating condition and allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis. Due to strong scientific evidence, more states are expected to do so soon.

The State Medical Board of Ohio voted against including autism as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in September. Voting against adding this condition restricts patients in severe need from even discussing this as an option with their doctor. We urge our public officials to please listen to the majority of the experts and specialists in support of the addition of autism as a qualifying condition.

A number of the qualifying conditions on Ohio’s current list are symptoms associated with and comorbid conditions of autism. These include conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, gastrointestinal issues and others.

If autism is one condition entailing many conditions that are already approved for medical marijuana in Ohio, why is autism spectrum disorder not a qualifying condition? Pediatric cannabis is already approved in Ohio for conditions like Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, and PTSD.

Why are our kids the exception and subjected to such hesitation when our kids suffer from these conditions because of autism?