In The Politics of Autism, I discuss various ideas about what causes the condition and how to treat it. I also write: "If the science were not confusing enough, its coverage in the mass media has added another layer of murk. News reports hype tentative findings and weak correlations as “breakthroughs” in the quest for autism answers.
In the worst scenarios, families inspired by media coverage may pursue treatments that are both ineffective and unsafe. This has been the case with MDMA, or 3,4-methyldioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as ecstasy, to treat social anxiety in autistic adults. Much media coverage of this experimental treatment failed to report that the drug is neurotoxic in animal models and humans, and that a “safe” dose has not been established. As a result, the public received complete misinformation via mainstream media outlets. The false hope of MDMA might have led some in the autism community to pursue an illegal—and, more importantly, potentially lethal—intervention.
. In another case, the headline “Stem Cells Offer Hope for Autism” might have encouraged families to travel to international sites with unregulated medical practices to obtain this therapy, which is still unproven. Conversely, the media is largely missing the mark on the potential of medical marijuana, confusing different cannabinoids and mixing up indications in their headlines. This type of misinformation will only serve to stifle badly needed research into phytocannabinoids in marijuana that do, in fact, show promise for treating epilepsy, which commonly co-occurs in children with autism.