For too long, our knowledge of cannabis has been cloaked in the stigma that it is no more than a drug used by unfavorable types to get high. But in the last several decades, scientists have made major discoveries about the components of cannabis. And health care professionals and patients have discovered the ability of cannabis, specifically cannabinoids, to treat numerous diseases and conditions.
There are conditions and disorders that have associated stigmas, as well. No doubt, anyone living with autism or caring for someone with autism, experiences misunderstandings from their fellow human beings on a daily basis.
But when we educate ourselves about something beyond its social characterization—that’s when real change and advancement can happen.
Autism is a disorder of the neural system that develops during infancy. It is characterized by impairments in social communication and interaction. It is also characterized by repetitive and restricted behaviors. Research has shown that cannabinoids are very effective when it comes to behavioral improvement. It also improves communication abilities by allowing the brain to send clear signals.
Autism spectrum disorder is a broad term that describes a range of complex neural disorders that are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, physical and verbal communication problems, plus repetitive behavioral patterns. Autism is one of the numerous types of autism spectrum disorder. It also doubles as the most severe form of autism spectrum disorder. Other impairments classified under autism spectrum disorder include:
- Asperger syndrome
- childhood disintegrative disorder
- pervasive development disorder
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that at least one out of 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Males are more likely to have it than females.
The major sign of autism spectrum disorder is a poor ability to interact socially. Infants and children with this disorder may experience difficulty responding to people, avoid eye contact, and fail to respond to their names. They may focus on a particular thing for a long period of time without noticing any external stimulation. They have difficulty interpreting the feelings and thoughts of others. Subsequently, they may not be able to respond to facial expressions and voice tone. In many cases, they lack empathy. Children with autism exhibit common features such as self-abusiveness or head banging.
The main causes of autism spectrum disorder are not known. However, studies carried out by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke show that the environment and genetics play a role.
How Can Cannabinoids Help with Autism?
Researchers have established a relationship between the CB2 endocannabinoid receptor and autism. A particular study found out that mutations in brain cells that were previously linked with autism block the actions of CB2 agonists. These CB2 receptors are the same ones that have an affinity for cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Similarly, a study also found that autistic mice had upregulated CB2 receptors. This same prevalence was discovered in the upregulation of CB2 in human subjects. Such findings support the theory that autism may be caused by an inability of the brain to send clear signals, thereby lending more credence to the fact that industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids can create a proper flow of communication for optimal cell functioning.
Studies have proven the efficacy of cannabinoids in the treatment of autism. In one particular study, THC was administered to an autistic child for six months. Significant improvements were reported in the child. Improvements were seen in irritability, inappropriate speech, lethargy, hyperactivity, and stereotypy.
The most common genetic cause of autism is the fragile x syndrome. A study has shown that increasing the level of brain cannabinoids helps to correct the behavioral issues that are associated with this disorder.
It is obvious from preclinical trials on animals and some of the human studies that have been carried out, cannabinoids are able to improve the quality of life for individuals living with autism and their caretakers. As more and more evidence—anecdotal and substantiated research—becomes available, the stigma surrounding cannabis and industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids is fading. And with this vanishing, the opportunity to study and educate ourselves about the preventative health and therapeutic effects of cannabinoids becomes more accessible. For many, conventional treatments simply do not work. We must continue to study and educate the general public about cannabinoids.
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Autism Fact Sheet (n.d.). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Foldy, C., Malenka, RC, and Sudhof, TC (2013). Autism-associated neuroligin-3 mutations commonly disrupt tonic endocannabinoid signaling. Neuron, 78(3), 498-509.
Jung, KM; Sepers, M, Henstridge, CM, Lassalle O et al (2012). Uncoupling of the endocannabinoid signaling complex in a mouse model of fragile x syndrome. Nature Communications, 3: 1080. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2045.
Kurz, R, and Blass, K (2010). Use of dronabinol (delta-9-THC) in autism: A prospective single-case study with an early infantile autistic child. Cannabinoids, 5(4), 4-6.