Cannabis for Autism Harm Reduction

Cannabis for Autism Harm Reduction

By Janna Champagne, BSN, RN, Autism Mom

Tens of thousands of parents in the US choose to administer cannabis to their child with Autism, a seemingly risky prospect considering the complex legalities of medical cannabis, and often punitive regulations. I’m one of those parents using cannabis to treat my daughter with Autism, and I can personally vouch for the angst and hope that often follows this decision. Fear often strikes while parents maneuver dark gray areas, in an attempt to improve our Autism children’s overall existence. In many of these cases, the benefits outweigh any hesitations, and cannabis wins as the preferred treatment approach.

As a holistic nurse focused on natural alternatives to pharma, residing in a cannabis-legal state, learning about medical cannabis therapy was a logical decision for me. Cannabis quickly became a major life passion, after saving my own teen daughter with Autism from out-of-home placement, due to a sudden onset behavioral crisis with puberty onset. Safety concerns arose with her high-level behaviors, including self-injury, aggressive attacks, and property destruction, and can attest that there’s nothing more helpless than watching your child suffer to the extent of injuring themselves and others in a blind rage.

Since witnessing the life-improving results in my own child with Autism, I have personally educated thousands of cannabis patients with a goal of optimizing their therapeutic outcomes. For most of my Autism clients, cannabis has provided safe and effective symptom relief, and eased many family’s crisis situations. As an added bonus, many have replaced potentially harmful mental health pharmaceutical medications, some of which have daunting side effects. When parents learn that cannabis, used as medicine for thousands of years, has an unsurpassed safety profile, and mild if any side effects, it’s often a far more appealing option.

Currently only two pharmaceuticals are FDA approved for Autism, both Antipsychotics named Abilify and Risperdone. In addition, many pharmaceuticals are prescribed as off-label use, including antidepressants (SSRI’s), Anxiolytics/Benzos (Ativan), Stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall), and Anticonvulsants (Lamictal). The mainstream pharmaceutical approach is risky, especially considering these drugs are not approved for use in children, and we have no clue what the long-term effects may be. The declared pharmaceutical side effects are bad enough, with potential to threaten quality of life (male breast development, extrapyramidal symptoms), or be life threatening (suicidal ideation, NMS, SJS) (1, 2).

In addition to positive patient outcomes, and desirable safety profile, the research also supports cannabis as an optimal approach for addressing Autism symptoms. Endocannabinoid System (ECS) Deficiency is a condition termed by Dr Ethan Russo MD which predisposes Autism (3). ECS Deficiency means the body is unable to produce enough endocannabinoids, known as vital nutrients that promote a state of optimal health balance (aka homeostasis). In addition to producing endocannabinoids, our ECS has receptors to uptake endocannabinoids throughout our bodies. In response to an imbalance, the ECS will produce extra endocananbinoids, and receptor activation intelligently rebalances whatever is out of skew (4).

This includes some important areas for treating Autism such as neurotransmitter balance, immune modulation, and decreasing inflammation (5, 6, 7, 8). Amazingly, when our bodies can’t produce enough endocannabinoids to remain in balance, phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant seamlessly and safely replace the deficient endocannabinoids. One contributor to Autism is EndoCannabinoid Deficiency, which may help explain why cannabis is a highly effective therapeutic option (9), by targeting root imbalances. In addition, cannabis may relieve common symptoms of Autism, incuding anxiety (10), pain (11), and inflammation (12).I hope this article helps expand your paradigm on this important topic of cannabis for Autism harm reduction, and I hope you will join me in advocating for improved legal access and expanded use of cannabis for Autism families in need.

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


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

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