March 17, 2016

Pennsylvania could be first state to list autism as qualifying condition for medical marijuana

Research shows link between autism disorders and endocannabinoid deficiency

Legislation Medical Marijuana
Medical Marijuana Russel A. Daniels/AP

Aimee Polacci, garden product manager, carries a tray of cannabis clones to be sold at the Peace in Medicine dispensary in Sebastopol, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009.

As the Pennsylvania Senate prepares to review a medical marijuana bill overwhelmingly approved this week by the state House of Representatives, the legislation could be the first in the United States to include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a qualifying condition to receive a prescription.

In its current form, the "functional medical marijuana bill" will have to pass the Senate and gain the signature of Governor Tom Wolf, who has committed to signing it, according to WGAL in Lancaster. In the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives, autism is listed among 16 conditions eligible for cannabis treatment under the care of a properly licensed medical professional.

If the bill becomes law, doctors statewide would be enrolled in a four-hour course detailing the latest scientific research on medical marijuana. Physicians who want to participate in the program will have to submit an application to become registered to prescribe the drug, which can be administered in pill form, oils and liquids, but not as a smokable substance.

The potential treatment link between autism and cannabis was first explored by researchers at UC Irvine, who published a study in 2000 that found cannabis could be an effective treatment for schizophrenia, Parkinson's Disease, autism and several other conditions.

In some forms of ASD, which develop predominantly in males during the first three years of life, researchers believe the conditions arise from endocannabinoid deficiency. Stanford University researchers found in a 2013 study that many symptoms of autism are caused by a gene mutation that blocks natural production of endocannabinoids and disrupts the way cannabinoids interact with the brain.

In another study, published in 2013 by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers found that immune dysfunction – a contributing factor to some forms of autism – can be caused by complications with the endocannabinoid system.

The Autism Research Institute, meanwhile, believes that proper doses of medical marijuana, used as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments, can alleviate some symptoms of autism including anxiety, aggression, panic disorder, and self-injurious behavior, according to review of the subject compiled by Whaxy

If the proposed bill passes the Senate, Pennsylvania would become the 24th state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana.