Weeding Out the Justification for Marijuana Treatment in Patients with Developmental and Behavioral Conditions

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Abstract

CASE: Alex is a 13-year-old adolescent with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-combined type, anxiety, and depression. He has been resistant to engaging in therapy and treatment with various medications has been unsuccessful. Alex's parents are concerned about his anxiety, isolation, oppositional behaviors, academic underachievement, truancy, and substance use. A recent altercation with his stepfather led to a police intervention and a brief removal of Alex from the home. Alex previously used alcohol and other drugs; at present, he reports that his current drug use consists of frequently smoking pot. Alex states that he uses marijuana to relieve his anxiety and does not understand why this is problematic as marijuana is now legal in his state.

Kevin is a 24-year-old adult man with diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, mild intellectual disability, and schizoaffective disorder. He has a long history of challenging and problematic behaviors including aggression toward self and others, property destruction, inappropriate sexual behaviors, elopement, emotional outbursts, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Past diagnoses include bipolar affective disorder, depression, and intermittent explosive disorder. Kevin is notably obese and somnolent. His current medications include 8 psychotropic medications, 3 antiallergy medications, levothyroxine, and a fish oil supplement. His father reports that medications have gradually been added and dosages increased over time. Two weeks ago, his new psychiatrist initiated a trial of medical marijuana. His father hopes that the marijuana will allow Kevin's other medications to be decreased or discontinued.

Linda is an 11-year-old girl with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, and ADHD-inattentive subtype. Anxiety has been her most impairing condition, and Linda has been responding well to a treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy and a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. She is also working with her therapist on strategies to address her symptoms of ADHD. Linda has had no side effects from her medication and she and her family have been pleased with her progress. At a follow-up appointment, her mother brings an article from the lay press authored by a parent who claims that marijuana “saved” her autistic son. Linda's mother asks if marijuana should be considered for her daughter.

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