Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
When you have autism, your brain processes information differently, changing the way you think, behave and interact with others. It can also make it difficult to communicate with other people and cause you to become overly competitive. These factors add difficulty to your daily functioning, especially when it comes to social interaction.
When autism makes life hard, it can lead to additional symptoms like anxiety, depression and aggression. Some children with autism even act out due to frustration. To address these issues, some patients use medical marijuana to feel calmer and happier. It can also relieve potentially dangerous autism-adjacent seizures.
Siniscalco et al. wanted to learn more about the endocannabinoid systems of children with autism. Since we don’t understand why some people have autism, we’re still trying to figure out the cause. This team of researchers investigated the number of cannabinoid receptors in autistic and non-autistic children’s blood cells.
To understand how many receptors each child had, the researchers drew blood samples, examined their peripheral blood mononuclear cells and checked the CB1 and CB2 receptors in these cells. All subjects were between the ages of three and nine.
While the children with autism had nearly identical numbers of CB1 receptors compared to the children without, they had a much higher number of CB2 receptors. They also had higher protein levels in their CB2 receptors. Since the autistic subjects had more CB2 receptors, they could also have different endocannabinoid systems that doctors could target for treatment.
Shelef et al. wanted to test THC’s capabilities as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Like people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease patients can show aggressive behavior as a response to their condition. So, finding a solution for agitation related to Alzheimer’s disease could also help people with autism.
To understand how THC works to relieve dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease, the team worked with 10 patients who had the disorder. For four weeks, the subjects took medicinal cannabis oil with THC in it, in addition to their typical medication. The patients were aware they were using a marijuana product, too.
On average, the patients experienced a significant decrease in Alzheimer’s symptoms. As part of this effect, they felt less irritability, agitation and aggression. In addition to making the subjects calmer and happier, the THC helped them improve their sleep and reduce delusions. Autistic patients could possibly take advantage of these effects, as well.
Devinsky et al. examined how CBD affected epilepsy patients’ seizures. Many people with autism also deal with seizures, so understanding if cannabis can relieve this symptom could help them, too. The team wanted to understand if we can use CBD as an add-on therapy for typical treatments.
A total of 162 patients up to the age of 30 took CBD every day for 12 weeks. While their ages varied, they all started experiencing autism symptoms as a child. When evaluating the medicine’s effectiveness, the researchers looked at the frequency of seizures and appearance of side effects.
CBD not only greatly reduced the frequency of seizures for the patients, but it also had few adverse side effects. While about 20 subjects (12%) had severe issues possibly related to the CBD treatment, the team couldn’t determine the actual source. On average, the patients had a median of 30 seizures a month before treatment, and an average of 15.8 while taking CBD.
Evidence shows medical marijuana works as a safe and effective treatment option for patients of all ages. Learn more about autism and cannabis medicine from our condition guide. To get a medicinal cannabis recommendation, get in touch with a marijuana doctor near you today.