Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Autism affects adults and children of any intellectual level. The autism spectrum encompasses four different diagnoses the American Psychiatric Association grouped together in 2013. In addition to autistic disorder and Asperger syndrome, autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can refer to childhood disintegrative disorder and PDD-NOS.
We call ASD a “spectrum” because someone with ASD can have a wide range of conditions and symptoms. The most common symptoms include repetitive behaviors and difficulty with social interaction and communication. But, people with ASD often think in ways that neurotypical folks can’t. Having autism doesn’t make you “broken” or “stupid” — you just have a brain that works differently.
Most of the harmful symptoms associated with ASD come from trying to adapt to society. When you can’t understand others and the world like people expect you to, you can feel depressed or frustrated. Children with autism sometimes don’t know how to express these feelings, so they act out aggressively.
Most treatment approaches to autism focus on reducing detrimental symptoms so the patient can live their life happier and healthier. A growing body of evidence shows cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) can offer relief.
Everyone has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that manages basic bodily functions like movement, mood and sleep. Endocannabinoids, or cannabinoids our bodies make naturally, attach to cell receptors called CB1 and CB2. When the CB1 and CB2 receive cannabinoids, they send messages to the rest of your system.
In some cases, a person’s ECS doesn’t work the way it should. This situation can lead to too many or too little of a compound, contributing to health conditions. To correct this imbalance, we can treat a patient with exogenous cannabinoids, or cannabinoids that come from outside sources like medical marijuana.
While we’re still doing very exciting research on the link between the ECS and bodily functions, the data we have so far suggests something incredible about autism. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates our nerves and controls movement, emotions and motivation, seems to work closely with the ECS. Cannabinoid receptors tend to appear in cells that have dopamine receptors. Plus, the endocannabinoid anandamide regulates dopamine.
Scientists also think dopamine levels have a link to autism. An excess of the compound could result in difficulty with motor skills, mood issues and other symptoms. Even if it doesn’t directly cause autism, using cannabinoids to fix the amount of dopamine in your body can reduce symptoms.
So, what role does CBD have to play in medical cannabis treatment for autism-related symptoms? It protects anandamide from a fatty acid called FAAH that breaks it down. Anandamide inhibits dopamine’s effects, putting it in check when you have too much dopamine-related activity. If it does turn out that too much dopamine contributes to autism, using a cannabis-based treatment could tackle the source.
But, even if dopamine has no link to autism, we do know it has a connection to symptoms related to ASD. Increasing the anandamide in your body can reduce seizures, one of the dangerous aspects of autism. It can also help you stay focused and motivated.
Depending on any comorbid conditions and your treatment goals, you can take CBD medicine in a variety of formulations. If you can legally use medication that has THC in it, you might benefit from CBD that includes a small amount. However, you can also take isolated CBD, which doesn’t give you the psychoactive effects of THC. Children and other people who don’t want to experience any imparment tend to get pure CBD treatments. Talk to your doctor for more advice.
You can get CBD in all sorts of forms that suit different preferences and lifestyles. If you prefer smoking, you can find flower strains high in CBD and low in THC. You can also get products like tinctures, pills and even edibles. Check your state and federal laws before buying, though — while federal law only allows hemp-derived CBD, some states don’t even allow that.
The kind of CBD product that will work for you depends on many factors. For example, you could be reading this article to research CBD treatment for your child. You might want to try a CBD oil you can add to their favorite food, making the medication process easy for everyone. Adults can try many other ways to medicate, including vaping and topicals.
Want to learn more about how people with autism can benefit from medical cannabis? At MarijuanaDoctors.com, we provide you with the resources you need to stay up-to-date on new findings about alternative medicine options.
Learn more about Autism and what makes medical marijuana an effective treatment for Autism’s symptoms.