The following information is presented for educational purposes only.
Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding
of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites
do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana
Inc. and none should be inferred.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that develops in infancy or
childhood and is characterized by social interaction and communications
impairments and restricted and repetitive behaviors. Studies have shown
marijuana is effective at improving behavior and communication abilities by
repairing the brain’s ability to send clear signals.
Overview of Autism
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term used to classify a range of complex
neurodevelopment disorders that are characterized, in varying degrees, by
social interaction difficulties, verbal and physical communication problems,
and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. Of the numerous types of
ASD’s is autism, or “classical ASD,” which is the most severe form of ASD. Also
classified within the spectrum of ASD’s are Asperger syndrome, childhood
disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise
specified. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke, 1 out of 88 children age 8 will have an ASD and males are four times
more likely to have one of the disorders than females.
Impaired social interaction is the main sign of ASD and it can be visible in
as early as infancy. Babies and children with ASD can be unresponsive to
people, avoid eye contact or fail to respond to their names. They may focus
on one item for a long period of time without noticing any
outside stimulation. They struggle at interpreting the thoughts and feelings
of others and therefore have problems understanding and responding to social
cues like facial expressions and tone of voice. It’s not uncommon for them
to lack empathy. Repetitive motions like rocking or twirling, or
self-abusive behaviors, like biting or head banging, are common in children
Very early indicators of an ASD include not responding to one’s name, poor
eye contact, no babbling or pointing by age 1, no single words by 16 months,
excessive lining up of toys or other objects and no smiling or social
responsiveness. Later indicators include an impaired ability to make
friends, difficulty initiating or sustaining a conversation, impaired
imaginative play, repetitive or unusual language, restricted patterns of
focus and the inflexible need to stick with routines. The causes of ASD are
unknown, but according to the National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke, both genetics and environment likely play a role.
Brain irregularities and abnormal neurotransmitter levels are commonly found
in ASD infants and children, which suggest that the disease is caused by a
disruption in normal brain development because of the presence of
gene defects that regulate how brain cells communicate.
Currently, there is no cure for ADS, so focus is rather on treatment through
skill-oriented training interventions to teach social and language skills,
medications for anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Autism
Researchers have found what they believe to be a potential link between
autism and the cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB2) within the endocannabinoid
system. One study found that the cell mutations in the brain that have been
previously associated with autism block the action of molecules that act on
CB2 receptors. These CB2 receptors are the same ones that the cannabinoids
found in cannabis (tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD)
act upon (Roldy, Malenka & Sudhof, 2013). A similar study also determined
that mice with autistic-like behavioral issues possessed upregulated CB2
receptors (Onaivi, et al, 2011). Another discovered this same prevalence in
the upregulation of CB2, but in human subjects (Siniscalco, et al, 2013).
These findings regarding the CB2 receptors suggest that autism could be
caused by a disruption of the brain’s ability to send clear signals and in
turn raises the possibility that using cannabinoids found in cannabis can
restore communication to allow for proper cell function and communication
and therefore contribute to the treatment of autism (Foldy, Malenka & Sudhof, 2013).
There’s evidence supporting that cannabinoids are effective in treating
autism. An autistic child that was given THC for six months reported
significant improvements in hyperactivity, lethargy, irritability,
stereotypy and inappropriate speech (Kurz & Blass, 2010). In addition, mice
with similar behavioral characteristics to autistic humans saw an enhanced
reduction in depression and were able to remain focused on running on the
spinning wheel apparatus after given cannabinoids (Onaivi, et al., 2011).
Another study found that boosting cannabinoids like the ones found
in marijuana in the brain helps to correct behavioral issues that are
related to fragile x syndrome, the most common known genetic cause of autism
(Jung, et al., 2012).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Autism
Pennsylvania is the only
state to have approved medical marijuana for autism. A number of other
states do, however, consider allowing marijuana for conditions that are not
specified in their list of approved conditions. An approval or physician
recommendation is required for consideration. These states include: California (any
debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended
by a physician), Connecticut (other
medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer
Protection), Massachusetts (other
conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other
conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other
conditions subject to approval), Rhode
Island (other conditions
subject to approval), and Washington (any
“terminal or debilitating condition”).
D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a
DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Autism
An autistic child given THC for six months reported significant
reductions in the symptoms of autism.
Use of dronabinol (delta-9-THC) in autism: A prospective
single-case-study with an early infantile autistic child.
Mice with similar behavioral characteristics to autistic humans saw an
enhanced reduction in depression and were able to remain focused on
running on the spinning wheel apparatus.
Consequences of cannabinoid and monoaminergic system disruption in a
mouse model of autism spectrum disorders.
Autism Fact Sheet. (n.d.). National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm.
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.
Foldy, C., Malenka, RC. and Sudhof, TC. (2013, May 8).
Autism-associated neuroligin-3 mutations commonly disrupt tonic
endocannabinoid signaling. Neuron, 78(3), 498-509.
Jung, KM., Sepers, M., Henstridge, CM, Lassalle, O., Neuhofer,
D., Martin, H., Ginger, M., Frick, A., DiPatrizio, NV., Mackie,
K., Katona, I., Piomelli, D. and Manzoni, OJ. (2012). Uncoupling
of the endocannabinoid signalling complex in a mouse model of
fragile x syndrome. Nature Communications, 3:1080. doi:
Onaivi, ES., Benno, R., Halpern, T., Mehanovic, M., Schanz, N.,
Sanders, C., Yan, X., Ishiguro, H., Liu, QR., Berzal, AL.,
Viveros, MP. and Ali, SF. (2011, March). Consequences of
cannabinoid and monoaminergic system disruption in a mouse model
of autism spectrum disorders. Current Neuropharmacology, 9(1),
Siniscalco, D., Sapone, A., Giordano, C., Cirillo, A., de
Magistris, L., Rossi, F., Fasano, A., Bradstreet, JJ., Maione,
S. and Antonucci, N. (2013, November). Cannabinoid receptor type
2, but not type 1, is up-regulated in peripheral blood
mononuclear cells of children affected by autistic disorders.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(11), 2686-95.
What Is Autism? (n.d.). Autism Speaks. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism.
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