Objectives: This literature review aims to summarize the effects of medical cannabis use in children on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms, side effects and provide recommendations for practice, education, and research. Background: ASD is characterized by core behaviors of significant impairment in social communication and interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities (APA, 2013). In addition to these core behaviors, individuals with ASD often have noncore behavioral disorders and several medical comorbidities. Treatment for ASD symptoms includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), aripiprazole (Abilify) and/or risperidone (Risperdal). As of this review, 14 states have added ASD as a qualifying condition in their medical cannabis program. Methods: Key terms related to the clinical question were entered into eight different databases to search for studies on cannabis use in children with ASD. Findings: The findings suggest improvement in ASD symptoms, such as social communication (core symptom), noncore behaviors (self-injury, restlessness, rage attacks, agitation, aggressiveness, irritability), and comorbid conditions (anxiety, epilepsy, sleep problems/dysregulation, ADHD/hyperactivity/concentration). An additional benefit with the improvement in comorbid conditions is the reduction of medications used in some participants. Common side effects include sleep disturbance, somnolence, and decreased appetite, restlessness, and a single episode of psychosis requiring treatment. These studies' positive outcomes warrant the use of cannabis as an adjunct treatment in children and provide the impetus for further research studies with large randomized controlled trials to provide higher evidence literature to support the treatment of ASD symptoms with cannabis.


Gwen Verchota

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)


School of Nursing


Allied Health and Nursing



Rights Statement

In Copyright