Blog # 25- Cannabis Extract an Alternative Treatment Option to Alleviate Multiple Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

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The prevalence of autism is on the rise in the United States as, “1 in 54 has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)” (CDC, 2020). Families and individuals affected by ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are looking on a daily basis to find an effective treatment option to alleviate the symptoms associated with the disorder. Media, and studies conducted through research and science, however, have discovered that families and individuals with autism are noticing an improvement of symptoms with the use of cannabis. While this may be the case, I do think more clinical trials and research need to be conducted to evaluate the effects and the dosages of cannabis use among people on the autism spectrum. Cannabis might be considered an alternative treatment option for individuals on the autism spectrum to help reduce the symptoms they embrace through an ongoing basis. 

Cannabis is a psychoactive drug that has been used for medical circumstances specifically such as epilepsy and anxiety. Cannabis involves two compounds, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) does produce intoxication, CBD (cannabidiol), “does not produce intoxication” (Thompson, 2019). The cannabidiol (CBD) derived from cannabis is what activates the cannabinoid (CBD) receptors of the brain to stimulate the different parts of the brain associated with appetite, pain and sensation, mood, and memory. Likely this would include the amygdala (emotions), the hippocampus (memories), the hypothalamus (appetite), and the parietal lobe (pain and sensation). What this would suggest, in my opinion, is that if given the correct amount of cannabis, there should be improved and controlled stimulation of the brain to help an individual to have a healthy appetite; to manage pain and sensation when responding to stimuli; to build short-term and long-term memory; and to be able to manage emotions effectively. Given these benefits that cannabis can produce, what are the implications that studies involving cannabis and autism show? 

Researchers and scientists continue to analyze and evaluate the effects of cannabis on individuals on the autism spectrum in the context of symptomatology. In one study from Israel with the utilization of cannabis, more specifically, cannabis oil, “The observational study collected data on behavior via parental self-reporting before and after treatment to examine quality of life and mood changes in 188 teens diagnosed with ASD” (Mammoser, 2019). In addition, “After 6 months of treatment, 30 percent of patients reported significant improvement in symptoms, and more than 50 percent reported moderate improvement” (Mammoser, 2019). What this would suggest is that about 80 percent of the 188 teens diagnosed with ASD were effectively treated with cannabis oil. 

In another study utilizing cannabis treatment, “60 children with ASD found that behavioral outbreaks were improved in more than 60 percent of the patients” (Mammoser, 2019). What this study suggests is that 36 children with ASD improved from their behavioral outbreaks with this treatment. 

The third study involves a group of kids with ASD with the placebo treatment and another group of kids with ASD with the cannabis extract. During the trial of two four week-periods with a four week break in the middle, “Kids taking a cannabis extract improved 49% and 53% on two scales in which doctors and parents measure autism symptoms and disruptive behavior. That compared to 21% and 44% improvement, respectively, in kids on the placebo” (Thompson, 2019). More kids with ASD benefited from the cannabis extract than the kids with ASD that had the placebo treatment. 

Brazil presented a more comprehensive study of cannabis treatment on individuals with autism. Among 18 patients over the course of 9 months, here is what happened. What was noted was that, “Each of the patients received a CBD-rich cannabis sativa extract with a CBD to THC ratio of 75 to 1. The patients received 4.6 milligrams of CBD per kilogram of body weight to 0.06 milligrams of THC-a not insignificant dose for someone weighing more than 100 pounds” (Roberts, 2019). I am thinking, based on this information provided, is that body weight may influence the dosing of cannabis for each individual. With regard to the results of the study, “Three patients discontinued the treatment because of “adverse effects” during the first month, but of the 15 who continued, 14 showed “some level of improvement” in multiple categories of symptoms” (Roberts, 2019). What this shows is that the majority of the patients on the cannabis treatment had their weight appropriately monitored, and the dose of cannabis for these patients was effective. The patients that experienced adverse side effects may have had unknown pre-existing medical conditions, and/or over the course of time they may have experienced fluctuations in weight which would have likely affected the dosage amount of cannabis which means either the patient was getting too much cannabis oil, or, the patient was getting too little cannabis oil. 

Cannabis extract might very well be an effective alternative treatment for individuals with autism experiencing behavioral challenges. Cannabis involves the compound CBD (cannabidiol) that is key to treatment which activates the cannabinoid receptors of the brain that help support appetite; pain and sensation; mood; and memory. Several studies suggest cannabis extract being effective in improving the symptomatology of individuals and patients on the autism spectrum. However, we need to be mindful of the side effects of cannabis extract such as dry mouth; hypotension; lightheadedness; and drowsiness. Also, I think the Brazil study especially points out that dosage conversations of cannabis oil will likely depend on each individual’s body weight as lbs will need to be converted to kilograms and proportionate to the amount of milligrams of CBD oil per one kilogram to get the correct dose for each individual. That might mean ongoing or frequent labs to check to make sure the individual is still on the correct dose of CBD oil, especially if taken in pill form or liquid form. I hope these studies will also continue to expand in not just children and teens, but also in adulthood and those that are aging on the autism spectrum, and those that may or may not be utilizing the CBD extract treatment. The cannabis extract does bring hope in improving the behaviors and symptoms of individuals and families affected by ASD (autism spectrum disorder).