Cannabis News

Cannabis for Autism Harm Reduction

By Janna Champagne, BSN, RN, autistic mom

Tens of thousands of parents in the United States choose to administer cannabis to their child with autism, a seemingly risky prospect given the complex legalities of medical cannabis and often punitive regulations. I am one of those parents who uses cannabis to treat my autistic daughter, and I can personally attest to the anguish and hope that often follows this decision. Fear often strikes when parents maneuver into dark gray areas, with the goal of improving the overall existence of our autistic children. In many of these cases, the benefits outweigh the hesitations, and cannabis wins out as the preferred treatment approach.

As a holistic nurse focused on natural alternatives to the pharmacy, residing in a state where cannabis is legal, learning about medical cannabis therapy was a logical move for me. Cannabis quickly became a major passion in life, after saving my own autistic teenage daughter from outpatient care, due to a sudden behavioral crisis with the onset of puberty. Safety issues have arisen with his high-level behaviors, including self-harm, aggressive attacks and destruction of property, and can attest that there is nothing more helpless than watching your child suffer to the point to hurt themselves and others in blind rage.

Since witnessing the life-enhancing results of my own child with autism, I have personally educated thousands of cannabis patients with the goal of optimizing their treatment outcomes. For most of my autistic clients, cannabis has provided safe and effective symptom relief and eased many family crisis situations. As a bonus, many have replaced potentially mentally harmful pharmaceutical drugs, some of which have discouraging side effects. When parents learn that cannabis, which has been used as medicine for thousands of years, has an unparalleled safety profile and mild to no side effects, it’s often a much more appealing option.

Currently, only two pharmaceuticals are FDA approved for autism, the two antipsychotics named Abilify and Risperdone. In addition, many pharmaceuticals are prescribed as off-label use, including antidepressants (SSRIs), anti-anxiety/benzos (Ativan), stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall), and anticonvulsants (Lamictal). The traditional pharmaceutical approach is risky, especially since these drugs are not approved for use in children, and we have no idea of ​​the long-term effects. Reported pharmaceutical side effects are serious enough, with the potential to be quality of life threatening (male breast development, extrapyramidal symptoms) or life threatening (suicidal ideation, NMS, SJS) (1, 2).

In addition to the positive patient outcomes and desirable safety profile, research also supports cannabis as an optimal approach to treating autism symptoms. Endocannabinoid system (ECS) deficiency is a condition called by Dr. Ethan Russo MD that predisposes to autism (3). ECS deficiency means the body is unable to produce enough endocannabinoids, known as vital nutrients that support a state of optimal health balance (aka homeostasis). In addition to producing endocannabinoids, our ECS has receptors to absorb endocannabinoids throughout our bodies. In response to an imbalance, the ECS will produce additional endocannabinoids, and activating the receptors intelligently rebalances whatever is out of balance (4, 5).

This includes some important areas for treating autism, such as neurotransmitter balance, immune modulation and inflammation reduction (6, 7, 8, 9). Amazingly, when our bodies cannot produce enough endocannabinoids to stay in balance, phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant seamlessly and safely replace the deficient endocannabinoids. One of the contributors to autism is endocannabinoid deficiency, which may help explain why cannabis is a very effective treatment option (10), targeting root imbalances. Additionally, cannabis can relieve common symptoms of autism, including anxiety (11, 12), pain (13), and inflammation (14).

I hope this article helps you expand your paradigm on this important topic of cannabis for autism harm reduction, and I hope you will join me in advocating for better legal access and Expanded Use of Cannabis for Autistic Families in Need.

To learn more about Janna and her roles in the medical cannabis industry, please visit:

The references

  1. Adverse Drug and Supplement Effects, Autism Research Institute. Found online at:
  2. Medical Marijuana vs Traditional Pharmaceuticals (2016). Medicinal Marijuana Association, retrieved online from:
  3. Russo, Ethan (2008) Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): Can this concept explain the therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other treatment-resistant conditions? Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Apr;29(2):192-200.. Accessed online at:
  4. Dilja, D., Krueger, N. (2013) Evidence for a common endocannabinoid-related disease mechanism in autism spectrum disorders. Neuron: 78(3):408–410.
  5. Aran, A., Eylon, M., Harel, M., Polianski, L., Nemirovski, A., Tepper, S., Schnapp, A., Cassuto, H., Wattad, N. and Tam, J. ( 2019). Lower circulating endocannabinoid levels in children with autism spectrum disorders. Molecular autism, 10, 2.
  6. Carbone E, Manduca A, Cacchione C, Vicari S, Trezza V. Curing autism spectrum disorders with cannabinoids: a neuroinflammatory story. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Feb;121:128-143. Found online at:
  7. Chalystha Yie Qin Lee, Ashley E. Franks, Elisa L. Hill-Yardin (2020). Synaptic mutations associated with autism impact the gut-brain axis in mice. Brain, behavior and immunity, volume 88, pages 275-282. Found online at:
  8. Brigida AL, Schultz S, Cascone M, Antonucci N, Siniscalco D. (2017). Dysregulation of the endocannabinoid signal in autism spectrum disorders: a correlation link between the inflammatory state and neuroimmune alterations. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(7):1425.
  9. Nichold, J., Kaplan, B., (2020). Immune responses regulated by cannabidiol. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 5(1), retrieved online from:
  10. Chakrabarti, B., Persico, A. and Battista, N. (2015). Endocannabinoid signaling in autism. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4): 837–847.
  11. Campos, A., et al (2017). Plastic and neuroprotective mechanisms involved in the therapeutic effects of cannabidiol in psychiatric disorders. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 8:269. Found online at:
  12. Van Ameringen M, Zhang J, Patterson B, Turna J. The role of cannabis in the treatment of anxiety: an update. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2020 Jan;33(1):1-7. Found online at:
  13. Finn DP, Haroutounian S, Hohmann AG, Krane E, Soliman N, Rice ASC. Cannabinoids, endocannabinoid system and pain: review of preclinical studies. Pain. 2021 Jul 1;162(Suppl 1):S5-S25. Found online at:
  14. Li H, Kong W, Chambers CR, et al. Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid, attenuates pro-inflammatory mediators, T-cell infiltration, and thermal sensitivity after spinal cord injury in mice. Cellular immunol. 2018;329:1-9. Found online at:

#Cannabis #Autism #Harm #Reduction

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