Iowa Medical Cannabis Board Recommends Adding Autism to List of Qualifying Conditions

The recommendation now needs the final approval of the Board of Medicine.

Iowa’s medical cannabis advisory board this month recommended adding autism as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. The recommendation now needs final approval from the Board of Medicine to be implemented.

After hearing emotional testimony from a mother of a young girl with severe autism, the nine-member board voted in favor of giving children diagnosed with the developmental disorder legal access to cannabis.

Iowa’s medical cannabis advisory board is made up of eight physicians of different specialties and one representative from law enforcement. Chaired by Mason City Police Captain Mike McKelvey, the board meets two to four times per year to review petitions to add qualifying conditions to the program.

In a meeting on November 2, the board approved the petition to add severe autism, but voted against recommending the addition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“I think all the physicians have indicated a willingness to reconsider any of these conditions if there’s more information available,” said Randy Mayer, who oversees the state’s medical cannabis program.

The board also did not recommend any change to the program’s 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cap on medical cannabis produced for sale in Iowa. The board said it wanted “another year or two under our belts” before considering lifting the limit.

Iowa since 2017 has allowed patients diagnosed with a handful of “debilitating medical conditions” to legally possess and use cannabis containing no more than 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating compound that causes a high. Advocates have argued that patients with some conditions fare better with higher THC levels.

Despite polls showing that more than three in four Iowans support legalizing medical marijuana with higher levels of THC, lawmakers have been hesitant to expand the program.

Additionally, registered patients of Iowa’s medical cannabis program have faced challenges legally obtaining their cannabis. For years, it was illegal to manufacture or distribute cannabis, and federal law prohibits the transportation of marijuana across state lines.

Earlier this month, however, lawmakers, advocates, and state officials gathered in Des Moines to celebrate the grand opening of the state’s first medical cannabis manufacturing facility. Qualified patients will be able to buy low-THC cannabis oils, capsules, and topicals at the state’s five licensed dispensaries beginning December 1.

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Cannabis for Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterized by social interaction difficulties, verbal and physical communication problems, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior.

Research into cannabis for autism have found evidence that the plant’s cannabinoids can improve hyperactivity, lethargy, irritability, stereotypy, and inappropriate speech. Animal studies suggest that cannabis can help improve focus and reduce depression.

Investigators have found what they believe to be a potential link between autism and the endocannabinoid system, a major regulatory network that cannabis-derived cannabinoids interact with. The findings indicate dysfunctions with the endocannabinoid system may be related to the disorder, which could suggest a potential therapeutic application of cannabinoids.

Read more about the research into the effects of cannabis on autism here.

More on Medical Benefits of Cannabis

Autism is one of many conditions that medical marijuana has been used to treat in the United States.

You can learn more about what research has discovered on the effects of cannabis for various ailments and disorders through our education page, or keep up with the latest medical marijuana studies through our news page.