Autism, in its most diverse degrees, is a disorder that affects about 1 in 54 children. But what does it cause and how cannabis can play an important role in this scenario? We’ll tell you here!
In the past few decades, we have seen a significant increase in research on Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or just autism. To date, it is not known for sure why autism occurs – we know it can start being diagnosed, in individuals as old as 18 months. Autism can affect the development of a person, and with appropriate monitoring and treatments, it is possible to improve the quality of life of those who live with the facets of the spectrum.
One of the greatest discoveries of recent times was that medical cannabis can help anyone who has symptoms of ASD. It can be used to treat the most diverse aspects of the condition, from anxiety and mood disorders to seizures, common in some more aggressive degrees of the disorder.
The truth is that there is much to be discussed and learned about this subject, and we are here to present a little bit of the concepts related to autism and the results of the latest research involving its relationship with cannabis. And we know that this is even more difficult when we live in prohibitionism, with all the misinformation and difficulty in accessing medications derived from the plant.
Let’s understand more about this? Come with us, in our second post of the series on Medicinal and Therapeutic Cannabis!
Important warning: any possibility of using cannabis as a medicine must be analyzed by a specialist who monitors the history of each patient. This post is not a recommendation for self-medication with cannabis in any way. If you believe it can benefit your condition, talk to your doctor.
What is Autism?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5 explains that people within the spectrum may have deficits in social communication or social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, such as continuous movements, fixed interests and hypo or hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli. All patients with autism share these difficulties, but each will be affected to different intensities, resulting in very particular situations. Although it is still called infantile autism, as the diagnosis is more common during early childhood, these disorders are permanent conditions that accompany the person through all stages of life.
According to the organization Autism and Reality, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) brings together several neurodevelopmental disorders present since birth or early childhood, such as:
- Early Childhood Autism;
- Childhood Autism;
- Kanner’s autism;
- High functioning autism;
- Atypical Autism;
- Global Development Disorder with no other specification;
- Disintegrative Childhood Disorder;
- Asperger’s syndrome.
As for the most common symptoms related to behavior, an individual on the spectrum may show aggression, crying, increase in the tone of voice and present hyperactivity, irritability, impulsivity and inappropriate social interaction. It can also involuntarily imitate someone’s movements. There are also many types of uncoordinated repetition, both of words and movements. It is also common to have difficulty maintaining eye contact and social interaction.
In the development aspect, there is a general difficulty in learning processes, and one of the early signs is delayed speech in the first years of life. In its cognitive dimension, the autistic person has difficulty maintaining focus, in addition to being interested in a reduced number of topics. Psychologically, they may not recognize other people’s emotions and suffer from depression and anxiety.
In its mildest degrees, autism may even go unnoticed by parents and guardians. It is important to note that the disorder presents itself in different ways, without an exact pattern. The intensity, quantity and combination of symptoms will depend entirely on each individual. That is why it is so common to hear stories of people on the spectrum who are brilliant in a subject or skill, and others who have long delays in psychosocial and motor development.
But where can cannabis fit into the life of an autistic person?
Therapeutic cannabis as treatment
Some studies on cannabinoids have shown promising results in animal models and in clinical trials at an early stage. According to them, cannabis and its extracts can be used to treat seizures, behavioral problems and other characteristics related to autism. All of this is due to our wonderful endocannabinoid system and the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
According to the studies, THC activates CB1 and CB2 receptors, while CBD appears to block them. Both cannabinoid receptors are located in brain tissue (in neurons) and throughout the body. The brain contains more CB1 receptors than CB2, and the activation of each type of receptor affects a range of ion channels and proteins involved in cell signaling. The final effects of cannabinoid receptor activation depend on the body system to which they belong. For example, the activation of CB1 receptors in the brain can increase or decrease the excitability of the neuron, depending on what type of neuron a cannabinoid binds to; activation of CB2 receptors in the digestive system can decrease inflammation.
When dealing with an autistic individual, blocking the CB1 receptor can relieve seizures and memory problems, a condition related to autism, according to a 2013 study in Nature Medicine. A 2018 clinical trial of a synthetic CBD drug by manufacturer Zynerba showed significant improvements in anxiety and other behavioral traits in people with fragile X.
Research has also shown that CBD relieves seizures in children with CDKL5 deficiency disorder, a condition linked to autism that is characterized by seizures and developmental delay. CBD can also reduces seizures and improves learning and sociability in a mouse model with CDKL5 deficiency disorder.
But CBD alone may not be sufficient for the therapeutic effects of cannabis. A 20 to 1 ratio of CBD to THC relieves aggressive explosions in autistic children, a 2018 study suggests. That same proportion of compounds significantly improved the quality of life for some children and adolescents with autism in a 2019 study. researchers observed significantly fewer:
- Anxiety and restlessness;
How cannabis can help families
In some higher degrees, autism can be an extremely challenging condition, causing patients to need family care and attention throughout their lives. In these cases, the closest family nucleus – usually the mothers – may suffer from not only physical, but also emotional overload. It is not always easy to deal with an individual suffering from ASD, and we believe it’s important to talk about it.
In such cases, cannabis can help not only the individual with autism, but also their guardians, to deal with the consequences of the disorder. After all, it can also be indicated to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If this is your situation, talk to a doctor and see if the use may be relevant in your case!
But how to get this medication in Brazil?
Whatever the disorder may be: when there is a desire to have a 100% legal treatment with cannabis derivatives, it is necessary to apply for authorization. Since 2015, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) has allowed the import of drugs containing cannabinoids, and you can review the process here in this post.
Those who want can still understand whether home growing is a valid option for their reality. Here on the blog, we have already talked a lot about reasons for growing at home, and even cleared up doubts about the topic with the lawyers from Rede Reforma. If this alternative sounds better to you, you can contact a trusted attorney and apply for individual Habeas Corpus to protect yourself under the law.
Cannabis risks in relation to autism
Not long ago, we had news that generated a certain buzz in the global cannabis community: according to a Nature Medicine study, cannabis use during pregnancy could cause autism in the baby.
The researchers followed up diagnoses of neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism, in more than 500,000 children born between 2007 and 2012 in Ontario, Canada. They used a birth record to identify mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy. At check-in in the first trimester, 0.6 percent of mothers on the record reported yes. Of the half million registered children, 7,125 were diagnosed with autism, and its prevalence was higher among children born to women who used cannabis during pregnancy (2.22%, compared with 1.41% among women who did not use it) ).
- It is important to remember that, until today, the causes of ASD are not fully known, and scientific research has always focused efforts on the study of genetic predisposition, analyzing spontaneous mutations that can occur in the development of the fetus and the genetic inheritance passed from parents to children. However, there is already evidence that hereditary causes would explain only half the risk of developing ASD. Environmental factors that impact the fetus, such as stress, infections, exposure to toxic substances, complications during pregnancy and metabolic imbalances would have the same weight in the possibility of the appearance of the disorder.
The study authors are asking for a cautious interpretation of the results – in part because the association came about through an analysis of birth records, not a controlled study. According to them, the survey does not have all the data necessary to make any kind of proof. However, it is interesting to be cautious. As we have already said here on the blog, we will always advocate for the autonomy of each mother to decide what is best for her and her child, although we believe that the use of cannabis in pregnancy is discouraged.
There is still much to be discovered about TEA, and we hope that, more and more, our context will turn in favor of patients and research, and not anymore to a failed War on Drugs. After all, any advance that improves the quality of life of patients – whether from autism or any other disorder – should be welcome.
Gradually, we are working to, with a lot of information, break the taboos around cannabis, a substance so damaged by the prohibitionist campaigns. So, are we going with us?
We hope to see you next week with another post about therapeutic cannabis and its properties!