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Autism and Cannabis: Understanding the Health Benefits for Those On the Spectrum

Autism and Cannabis: Understanding the Health Benefits for Those On the Spectrum

Autism is officially known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, and is marked by a disruption in people’s normal neurological development. This in turn affects mental processing, which can lead to a wide array of social behaviours and co-occurring conditions. It is typically diagnosed in early childhood, with 1 in 66 Canadian youth aged 5 to 17 estimated to have some form of mild to severe autism.

One of the most challenging aspects of diagnosing the condition is that individuals typically exhibit their own unique patterns of behaviour, which is why those with autism are considered to be at one of three different levels on the spectrum: mild, moderate, or severe. In Canada this spectrum is guided by the DSM-5, which takes a look at socializing skills, behavioural patterns, levels of flexibility, and language and sensory perception to determine how neurological impairments are affecting each person.

Some main signs of autism include repetitive behaviours, difficulty with social interactions, and a lack of eye contact. Many studies are now pointing to changes at the cellular level that disrupt normal DNA patterning and energetic processes as a key to understanding the underlying mechanisms of the condition. Because cannabis has been shown to help regulate and repair these same underlying issues, it is fast becoming a treatment option for parents seeking a natural remedy to help improve their child’s neurological functioning. The plant’s natural compounds work to aid those with autism in feeling more balanced, boosting their neural functioning, and gaining a healthier level control over their reactions and responses.

Understanding Autism Symptoms at Each Age

Because childhood development is marked by certain changes common to specific age groups, the signs of autism can differ for infants, toddlers, and older youths. Here are some key symptoms broken down by age that you can use to help determine if your child or a loved one may be on the autism spectrum.   

Birth to 12 Months Old

  • Limited eye contact with caregivers and a tendency to be more interested in inanimate objects than in people
  • Unresponsive to hearing their name called or to sounds and words that are directed at them
  • Beginning to use language and then losing this ability
  • Exhibiting repetitive hand, arm, leg, and foot movements that seem as if they’re stuck on ‘replay’

One to Two Years Old

  • Showing a lack of interest in playing with other kids, and not reciprocating during social interactions
  • Focusing intensely on limited interests only
  • Mimicking language without appearing to understand it
  • Prone to intense emotional outbursts, tantrums, and other behavioural issues such as purposefully injuring themselves
  • Resistant to change and seemingly ‘stuck in a rut’, such as eating very limited types of foods or playing the same game over and over
  • Showcasing repetitive movements atypical for their age, like continuously opening and closing their mouth, rocking back and forth, or flapping their arms

General Symptoms in Youth

  • Very sensitive to outside stimuli such as noisy environments and bright lights
  • Strong preference to be by themselves, and a difficulty understanding others’ emotions
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Delayed language skills and a tendency to be nonverbal
  • Repetitive behaviours, especially with words, body movements, and engaging in the same activities
  • Lack of control over their responses to people, social situations, or environmental changes

If you notice any combination of these symptoms in your child or a loved one, it’s recommended to have them assessed by a doctor or behavioural specialist. Because autism affects how children and adults alike relate to the world, the condition is typically treated with a combination of physical, behavioural, and cognitive therapy aimed at providing resources to empower growth and aid with daily functioning. The focus is on improving language and social skills, and also on treating the health conditions that commonly occur alongside autism. These include anxiety, depression, epilepsy, digestive disorders, ADHD, OCD, and issues with insomnia.

Understanding Cannabis’ Role in Autism Treatment

Because of the medical community’s focus on cannabis research for therapeutic use, it’s now being revealed that the plant’s healthy compounds, which are known as cannabinoids, can aid in reducing the key symptoms of autism. In fact, a 2018 study revealed that utilizing CBD-rich cannabis decreased children’s autism indicators in over 60% of patients, and this is backed up by a growing body of medical research highlighting the plant’s positive effects on the condition. The reasons for these improvements have to do with how autism manifests into neurological issues, and how cannabis can help reduce the risk for these dysfunctional processes.

Mitochondria, DNA Division, and Oxidative Stress

In order to understand how autism unfolds, we can look at how cells process energy. Your cell’s mitochondria are a powerhouse of wealth when it comes to your body’s health. They convert sugar and other molecules into energy and also help to regulate a variety of metabolic processes in your body. Their key role in maintaining a healthy level of balance, or homeostasis, in your main systems means that keeping them at optimal states of wellness is vital.

With autism, mitochondrial mutations or defects in the genes that regulate mitochondrial DNA division occur. These are either inherited, or they can come about due to toxins in the environment, adverse reactions to drugs, certain infections, food allergies, and diets that don’t support optimal cell health. These mutations cause disruptions in normal cellular functioning, especially when they’re present in your nerve, brain, and muscle tissues.

These disruptions are primarily due to the mutated mitochondria failing to properly regulate energy release, which leads to an overabundance of ‘oxidative stress‘. This is when there are too many positive electrons floating around your body without enough negative electrons with which to bond. These ‘free radical’ positive electrons are associated with many of the most debilitating issues of autism. By lowering antioxidant protein and enzyme levels, and negatively altering processes that regulate inflammation, oxidative stress has been scientifically linked to reduced language skills and impaired social and motor memories in people with autism.

Cannabis’ Role in Improving Autistic Symptoms

The good news is that the growing field of epigenetics has now revealed that just because we inherit a mitochondrial mutation or gene defect does not mean we will experience the full force of the conditions or symptoms that are associated with that defect. This is because the ways that our genes express themselves and our cells process energy can be regulated by our lifestyle choices. In particular, key nutrients found in healthy diets and medicinal plant-based medicines have been shown to help alleviate oxidative stress and boost cellular processing.

Science has come a long way in unravelling just how medicinal cannabis is helping assist those with autism. The plant’s cannabinoids, including CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), work by helping to optimize your body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS). This system is responsible for regulating many of your main systems in order to keep them in a healthy state of balance. A recent 2017 study found that the ECS also helps reduce the neurological inflammation that is linked to the development of autism. In addition, cannabis’ proven role as an antioxidant means that it is a powerful protector against the damaging effects of oxidative stress.

In fact, cannabis is considered an even more powerful antioxidant than vitamins C and E, which is one reason why researchers now believe that those utilizing the healing plant have shown such improvement of their co-occurring health conditions. This is especially true for people with sleep issues and anxiety related to autism: a recent study of autism patients showed a respective 70% and 47% improvement in these two health issues among participants who used CBD over a two-month period.

Using Cannabis to Treat Autism

Many adults with autism will use cannabis strains that contain both CBD and THC, since both of these cannabinoids are strong antioxidants. For children, the safest benefits come from pure CBD products because they provide strong protection against oxidative stress without the “high” associated with THC. CBD has also shown promise for significantly reducing episodes of epilepsy. Since up to a third of those with autism experience this condition, CBD is considered a highly advantageous treatment by many parents, teachers, health care specialists, and caregivers alike.

Our app is a great resource to access to find the strains and products that others are using to treat their primary autistic symptoms. You can simply enter in your indicators and a list of cannabis strains appears. For instance, Canntrust CBD Drops are the most popular product currently trending on our app for compulsive behaviour issues, with users listing their efficacy, or effectiveness rating, at 90%.

It’s always recommended that those interested in bringing cannabis into their own or a loved one’s autism therapy routine first consult a medical professional to ensure the safest, most beneficial experience possible. Our ever-expanding wellness forums can also connect you with other parents, caregivers, and people with autism who are using cannabis to better manage their daily lives. We offer you a caring and compassionate community that helps you navigate through all your questions and concerns, and provides you with an informative and engaging support system.


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