This article is the third in the Strainprint Community Cannabis for Conditions series. In the introductory piece on Social Anxiety, readers were offered a thorough primer on the mechanisms of cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as The Entourage Effect and its impact on health conditions. Read these important factors in cannabinoid therapy here.
Autism, officially labeled Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), afflicts an estimated 700 million people worldwide (most of whom are children), and is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder because it typically strikes during the first two years of life. ASD is a categorical umbrella that includes Asperger’s syndrome, autism, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and forms of Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
Like diseases such as cancer, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis, there is no known cure for ASD. This collection of conditions is believed to be caused by the delicate interplay of inherited genetics and environmental factors, although little is known about its core origins in terms of the disease’s preventability.
Autism is an increasingly prevalent childhood disease, afflicting one in 59 in North America. However, a closer look at the statistics reveals a wide disparity between male and female patients, with one in 37 boys suffering the disease, but only one in 151 girls afflicted (making males 400 percent more susceptible). Although little is known in terms of the causation behind this debilitating condition, it is more common in the children of older parents.
According to the site Autism Speaks, “Over the next decade, an estimated 500,000 teens (50,000 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of school based autism services.”
According to Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, autism patients exhibit problems with social interaction and communications, including the following:
Failure to respond to their name or appear not to hear adult direction.
Resist cuddling and holding and seem to prefer playing alone, retreating into their own world.
Show poor eye contact and lack facial expression.
Lack of or delayed speech or loses previous ability to utter words or sentences.
Inability to begin or maintain a conversation.
Speak with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech.
Repeat words or phrases verbatim, but do not understand their use.
Do not appear to understand simple questions or directions.
Do not express emotions or feelings and appear unaware of the feeling of others.
Do not point at or bring objects to share.
Inappropriately approach a social interaction by being passive, aggressive, or disruptive.
Have difficulty recognizing nonverbal cues, such as interpreting the facial expressions, body postures, and tone of voice of others.
Connected to Epilepsy
A connection has been observed between the various forms of ASD and the seizure disorder epilepsy. A 2009 study entitled “The Role of Epilepsy and Epileptiform EEGs in Autism Spectrum Disorders” published in the journal Pediatric Research reviewed the existing research literature and determined that 5-46% of ASD patients also have epilepsy.
Reported the study’s researchers, “This variation is probably the result of sample characteristics that increase epilepsy risk, such as sample ascertainment, lower intelligence quotient (IQ), the inclusion of patients with nonidiopathic autism, age, and gender.”
Much research during the past decade has provided both clinical and anecdotal evidence to support the medical efficacy of cannabis for autism and related ASD conditions.
A 2018 research study entitled “Cannabidiol-Rich Cannabis in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Severe Behavioral Problems—A Retrospective Feasibility Study” that was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that “Anecdotal evidence of successful cannabis treatment in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are accumulating, but clinical studies are lacking.”
The study’s researchers administered CBD-rich cannabis to children exhibiting ASD and other behavioral issues. “This retrospective study assessed tolerability and efficacy of cannabidiol-rich cannabis in 60 children with ASD and severe behavioral problems,” reported the study.
Concluded the study’s researchers, “Following the cannabis treatment, behavioral outbreaks were much improved or very much improved in 61% of patients. This preliminary study supports the feasibility of CBD-based cannabis trials in children with ASD.”
A 2016 study entitled “Enhancement of Anandamide-Mediated Endocannabinoid Signaling Corrects Autism-Related Social Impairment” and published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research revealed that molecular binding activity at CB1 receptor sites in the brain and central nervous system decreased some of the negative symptoms of ASD.
Concluded the study’s researchers, “The results suggest that increasing anandamide activity at CB1 receptors improves ASD-related social impairment.”
A 2015 study of the efficacy of cannabis for autism entitled “Medical Marijuana: Review of the Science and Implications for Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Practice” and published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics investigated the use of cannabis for developmental and behavioral conditions, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The study’s researchers concluded, “Cannabinoid receptors, which are normally activated by endogenous compounds such as anandamide, appear to modulate axonal migration and long-range subcortical projections in the brain during early brain development, and affect synaptic connectivity throughout childhood and adolescence.”
A 2013 study entitled “Autism-associated Neuroligin-3 Mutations Commonly Disrupt Tonic Endocannabinoid Signaling” and published in the journal Neuron revealed that the therapeutic role of the phytocannabinoids and terpenes commonly found in cultivars of cannabis may produce improvements in the ECS that lead to neurogenerative benefits and improvement in conditions such as autism.
Concluded the study’s researchers, “Our data thus suggest that neuroligin-3 is specifically required for tonic endocannabinoid signaling, raising the possibility that alterations in endocannabinoid signaling may contribute to autism pathophysiology.”