Colorado has been at the forefront of the American cannabis legalization movement. It first legalized medical cannabis use in 2000 and was the first state in the United States to legalize cannabis for recreational use in 2012. Through the process of experimentation and citizen input, Colorado has been able to attempt to understand how best to implement the policies of cannabis legalization. Recently, the state legislature expanded patient access to medical cannabis by adding autism to the list of qualifying conditions. Medical cannabis autism treatments are an important step forward for the state that is synonymous with cannabis legalization.

Autism and Cannabis in Colorado

Though numerous conditions are considered “debilitating medical conditions” by Colorado’s medical cannabis program, until now autism was not. The Colorado government considers debilitating medical conditions to be cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and now autism. The bill classifying autism as debilitating, HB19-1028, states, “This bill adds autism spectrum disorders to the list of disabling medical conditions that authorize a person to use medical marijuana for his or her condition.” Further, “…the bill removes the additional requirements on specific physicians to align with the constitutional provisions for a debilitating medical condition.”

The new law passed by the Colorado House of Representatives gives parents and caregivers of those with autism a clear path to accessing medical cannabis. CBD (cannabidiol), has been heralded anecdotally as a safe and effective treatment for limiting some of the side-effects of severe autism such as seizures and anxiety. Its non-psychoactive properties make it the ideal form of medical cannabis for treating those with autism.

The foremost autism foundation, Autism Speaks, hosted the first scientific conference on cannabis and autism late in 2018. At the conference, Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier said that,

“Our focus is on understanding the scope of early research and regulatory issues.”

Weighing the Risks of Medical Cannabis Autism Treatments

Dr. Frazier is concerned about better understanding the effects cannabis has on children with autism before full-scale legalization occurs. “As more states legalize cannabis, we know that a growing number of families affected by autism are considering these products to relieve severe behavioral symptoms, seizures and other challenging autism-related conditions,” he says. “But while anecdotal reports of benefit are common, we lack sufficient scientific evidence on effectiveness and risks.”

Weighing risks and effectiveness is important in treating a condition like autism that can present itself in various forms. Non-psychoactive and low side effect medications like CBD are very appealing to doctors and parents alike but it is important that their efficacy continue to be studied. However, the Colorado legislature is continuing to make progress by leaving medical decisions to families and medical professionals.

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