Speculation about the possible benefits of cannabis for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has grown considerably in recent years, although, in the absence of large-scale clinical trials, such claims lack scientific credibility. However, a new study published by Minnesota State University has found evidence that cannabis significantly alleviates numerous basic and non-basic symptoms of ASD, and study author Mai Xiong concludes that the plant should be considered as a treatment for children with autism[i].
Cannabis and autism
The new paper is a review study that looked at all previously published work on the effects of cannabis on autism symptoms in young people. Separately, the studies included in the review cannot be considered conclusive, as they each include a very small number of children, but when analyzed together, the patterns they reveal suddenly become much more definitive.
Before analyzing the data regarding the influence of cannabis on the symptoms of autism in humans, the study examines the rationale behind the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of ASD. For example, the endocannabinoid system is known to regulate emotional behaviors, social communication, cognition, learning, memory, and a host of other factors associated with autism.
Preclinical work in rodents has shown that endocannabinoid system disturbances produce “deficits in attention and working memory, hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors, anxiety-related phenotypes, altered social behaviors, and increased susceptibility to audiogenic seizures.” However, restoring the function of this system was found to attenuate these symptoms.[ii].
Cannabis relieves autism symptoms in children
After reviewing all the clinical data regarding the effects of cannabis in children with ASD, the researchers found that the tests clearly show a positive change in the main symptom of social communication. In one study, autistic children who received treatment showed a 30% improvement in social communication[iii], while another study observed a 47% improvement[iv].
Although the mechanism underlying this effect is unclear, it probably has something to do with the fact that the cortical regions of the left hemisphere – which are strongly associated with verbal language functions – have a particularly high concentration of cannabinoid receptors. Therefore, it seems likely that cannabinoids regulate the function of key brain areas that are involved in communication.
A number of non-essential symptoms of ASD also appear to be greatly favored by cannabis. For example, one study found that six months after cannabis treatment, 89.8% of children with autism showed a marked reduction in restlessness, with 89% experiencing fewer attacks of anger and 83.8% experiencing showed less agitation.
Children with ASD also experience high rates of comorbid conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and sleep disorders, which seem to be favored by cannabis. For example, one study found that autistic children who received cannabis showed a 70 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms[v], while another observed a 71.4 percent improvement in sleep quality[vi].
Meanwhile, 64.8 percent of children with autism experienced a reduction in ADHD after receiving cannabis treatment.
Summarizing the data, the study author writes that ‘these positive results justify the use of cannabis as an add-on treatment in children and provide the impetus for more research studies with large randomized controlled trials to provide a larger literature of evidence to support treatment symptoms of ASD with cannabis. »
Source: Seedsman Blog
Sources consulted :
[i] Xiong, M. (2021). Cannabis treatment of Autism in children: A literature reivew [Master’s alternative plan paper, Minnesota State University, Mankato]. Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato. – https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/1108/
[ii] Zamberletti, E., Gabaglio, M., & Parolaro, D. (2017). The endocannabinoid system and autism spectrum disorders: Insights from animal models. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(9), 1916–. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18091916
[iii] Bar-Lev Schleider, L., Mechoulam, R., Saban, N., Meiri, G., & Novack, V. (2019). Real life experience of medical cannabis treatment in autism: Analysis of safety and efficacy. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 200. – http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.mnsu.edu/10.1038/s41598-018-37570-y
[iv] Aran, A., Cassuto, H., Lubotzky, A., Wattad, N., & Hazan, E. (2019). Brief report: Cannabidiol-rich cannabis in children with autism spectrum disorder and severe behavioral problems—A retrospective feasibility study. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 49(3), 1284–1288. – https://doi-org.ezproxy.mnsu.edu/10.1007/s10803-018-3808-2
[v] Ponton, J. A., Smyth, K., Soumbasis, E., Llanos, S. A., Lewis, M., Meerholz, W. A., & Tanguay, R. L. (2020). A pediatric patient with autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy using cannabinoid extracts as complementary therapy: a case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports, 14(1), N.PAG. https://doi-org.ezproxy.mnsu.edu/10.1186/s13256-020-02478-7
[vi] Barchel, D., Stolar, O., De-Haan, T., Ziv-Baran, T., Saban, N., Fuchs, D. O., Koren, G., & Berkovitch, M. (2019). Oral cannabidiol use in children with autism spectrum disorder to treat related symptoms and comorbidities. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 1521. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.01521