The relationship between autism and cannabis use

Spend even a little while in the autistic community, and you will begin to notice that cannabis is a very popular drug for this particular demographic. Ranging from recreational, infrequent use, all the way to daily (what would be clinically described as “habitual”) use.

Cannabis is probably one of the least harmful drugs in terms of imminent risk, however there are risks associated with it that scientists are still trying to understand.

So why is cannabis a popular drug amongst Autistics?

Cannabis is a calming drug. I wouldn’t really describe it as sedative, although it can certainly help you sleep. This presents a number of attractive benefits for autistic people. People who typically experience anxiety and insomnia at a higher rate than the general population.

It also enhances many sensory experiences. Food becomes more enjoyable, and activities such as sex can be greatly enhanced by its use. As anyone in the autistic community will know, many Autistics are sensory seekers, so enhancing that experience can help with self-regulation and general enjoyment of life.

Cannabis is typically (in my own experience) enjoyed by those on the fringes of society. There is a sub-culture surrounding cannabis use that promotes the idea of not accepting the status quo, of doing what makes you happy. In my experience, many cannabis smokers meet the autistic ideals of honesty and having a direct nature. This, then, is perhaps some of the reason why autistic people are so drawn to cannabis.

We also can’t talk about cannabis without discussing self-medication. Autistic people experience trauma and significantly higher rates than neurotypical society. As a result, we seem to be more prone to mental health conditions. Cannabis use is legalised for the treatment of those conditions in several countries now, and where it’s not, there is a booming black market.

For autistic people who perhaps don’t have access to universal health care or health insurance, cannabis can represent a relatively safe and affordable option for relieving both psychological and physical pain.

Finally, we must consider one factor that neurotypical society tends to forget. We are human. Humans as a whole are rather enamoured with substance use. Many people safely enjoy the recreational benefits of cannabis use, and that includes autistic people.

I, personally, support the full legalisation of cannabis (although I no longer partake myself). Prohibition has done nothing but drive cannabis into the hands of criminal syndicates, and has needlessly filled our prisons with people who don’t deserve to be there.

We must consider that the harms done to the general population by prohibition are somewhat potentiated by being autistic. We are a population that does not fair well with systemic harms.

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