Autism is a complex neurological syndrome that can cause lifelong difficulties with learning, communication, and social interaction. Although there isn’t a cure for autism, treatments include behavioral and physical therapies, and a variety of potent medications for managing symptoms. And now, recent research reveals that compounds in cannabis can improve many of the symptoms of autism without the risk of severe side effects.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a condition that arises from abnormal neurological development in the brain before birth, which causes issues with signaling among several of the brain’s subsystems. Symptoms can range from extremely severe to relatively mild – a condition called Asperger’s syndrome.
Autism appears to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as advanced parental age and birth complications like low birth weight. Prenatal exposure to certain toxins and chemicals can also affect neurological connections in a developing brain – but extensive research debunks the widespread belief that childhood vaccinations can cause autism.
Autism symptoms can range from mild to very severe, and include:
- Impaired communication skills
- Repetitive behaviors such as rocking, flapping the arms, or spinning around.
- Problems with recognizing or understanding feelings.
- Problems with touching or being touched.
- Unpredictable outbursts of anger or violence
- Fixations on certain objects or motions, such as flashing lights or spinning wheels
- Disturbed sleep patterns and insomnia
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
People with autism are also more likely to have a number of other health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and gastrointestinal problems. Up to a third of autistic children and adults also have some form of epilepsy – a far higher percentage than in the population at large.
Since many factors can contribute to autism, conventional treatments focus on managing specific symptoms with a range of speech and behavioral therapies and medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs. These medications are not always effective, and they can cause severe side effects, like heart arrhythmia and suicidal ideation. But, recent research indicates that cannabis compounds may be able to relieve many symptoms of autism and co-occurring disorders.
The use of cannabis for autism was inspired by recent studies on the use of the cannabis compound cannabidiol, or CBD, to treat severe forms of epilepsy. Because epilepsy has such a strong correlation with autism, researchers found that CBD could also help to reduce problematic behaviors, improve communication skills, and reduce anxiety and depression in people with autism.
Researchers believe that autism is associated with an imbalance in two signaling systems in the brain. Glutamate is an abundant brain chemical that activates, or excites, signaling between brain cells, while gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is inhibitory – it blocks glutamate signaling and causes calmness and a positive mood. Cannabis appears to relieve many symptoms of autism because of its ability to balance the activity of these neurotransmitters and others related to social signaling and emotion.
Over the past 30 years, autism diagnoses worldwide have tripled. Scientists are still working to understand this mysterious disorder, but cannabis can offer new hope for relieving many of its symptoms.
Autism is a qualifying condition for Medical Marijuana in Utah. To get your Medical Marijuana Card, you’ll need to meet with a medical provider who can certify your qualifying condition and enter your information into the state user database. For more information or a consultation, schedule an appointment with us today.