A neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social impairment, communication difficulty, repetitive and restricted behaviors. The autism spectrum covers a wide range of verbal and non-verbal communication.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. – Colton Turner
Autism can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.
It is now known that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves. Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.
In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of nongenetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.
Pharmaceutical treatment includes Risperidone and Quetiapine. In addition, individuals with autism typically receive behavioral and speech and language therapy, as well as individualized education planning during school age years. When autism symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are evident, there are medications that have been used to treat autism.
Risperidone is a antipsychotic medicine. It works by changing the effects of chemicals in the brain.
Quetiapine is an antipsychotic medicine. It works by changing the actions of chemicals in the brain. Quetiapine is used to treat schizophrenia in adults and children who are at least 13 years old. Quetiapine is used to treat bipolar disorder (manic depression) in adults and children who are at least 10 years old.
Additional medications widely used to treat children with autism:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has many roles in the functioning of the brain. Children with autism are thought to have abnormal levels of serotonin, which may be why these antidepressants are often effectively used to treat the symptoms of autism, including obsessive-compulsive behaviors and anxiety. By some estimates, one in three autistic children will take an SSRI. SSRIs are given to reduce repetitive behaviors, improve mood, reduce tantrums, reduce aggression, and, to some degree, improve attention and eye contact. One of the most commonly used is fluoxetine (Prozac).
- Tricyclic medications. These are also antidepressants that target many of the same symptoms as SSRIs. They are not used as often, but may work better for some autistic children.
- Antipsychotic medications. Autistic children may take antipsychotic medications, which have a calming effect and reduce agitation, aggression, and withdrawal.
- Psychostimulants. Stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) may be given to reduce hyperactivity, disinhibition, and impulsivity. A recent study of data from 124 children with autism showed that stimulants successfully managed these autism symptoms 69.4 percent of the time.
- Anti-anxiety medications. These medications reduce the anxiety that is often associated with autism.
In addition to drugs for autism symptoms, children with autism often have other health concerns that require medication for treatment. These include sleep problems, painful digestive problems, allergies, and conditions such as epilepsy or seizures.
CBD and THC cannabinoids have been known to produce dramatic results in treating the symptoms of autism. Cannatonic is one of the phenotypes reported to be successful in symptom reduction. A strain called “Joey’s Strain” has recently been bred in California, with the specific treatment of autism in mind–complete with an individualized potency and terpene profile.
Difference between CBD and THC in Medical Marijuana
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. It acts much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the body, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors and activates them and affects a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception, according to NIDA.
THC is one of many compounds found in the resin secreted by glands of the marijuana plant. More of these glands are found around the reproductive organs of the plant than on any other area of the plant. Other compounds unique to marijuana, called cannabinoids, are present in this resin. One cannabinoid, CBD is nonpsychoactive, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and actually blocks the high associated with THC.
Cannabidiol or CBD, is the cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but does not make people feel “stoned” and can actually counteract the psychoactivity of THC. CBD does not cause a high, unlike THC. The reason why CBD is non-psychoactive is due to its lack of affinity for CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors are found in high concentrations in the brain, and are the pathways responsible for the psychoactive effects of THC.
CBD and THC levels tend to vary between different strains and varieties of cannabis. By using selective breeding techniques, we have managed to create varieties with high levels of CBD and THC.
What’s a Terpene?
Terpenes are what you smell and are the pungent oils that color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine.
Produced by countless plant species, terpenes are prevalent in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and other botanicals.
Scientists have identified and characterized the molecular structure of some 20,000 terpenes, which compose the largest category of plant chemicals. These can be further broken down into mono-terpenes, diterpenes and sesquiterpenes, depending on the number of repeating units of a five-carbon molecule called isoprene, the structural hallmark of all terpenoid compounds.
Terpenes are volatile molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Therein lies the basis of aromatherapy. Like their odorless cannabinoid cousins, terpenes are oily compounds secreted in the marijuana plant’s glandular trichomes. Terpenes and THC share a biochemical precursor, geranyl pyrophosphate, which develops into the cannabinoids and terpenoids that saturate the plant’s flower tops.
Around 200 terpenes have been found in cannabis, but only a few of these odiferous oily substances appear in amounts substantial enough to be noteworthy. It is believed that similar to aroma therapy, terpenes are the next frontier in medical marijuana.
Oral administration of cannabinoid oils and sprays are the most documented treatment process to date. However, it has also been reported the autistic children respond well to edibles. The key with edibles, is to make sure that dosing is understood.
Depending on the autistic traits exhibited by the child, a Sativa or Indica strain is used.
What are indicas, sativas and hybrids in Medical Marijuana
Cannabis is one of the oldest crops known to mankind, with records of its cultivation dating back thousands of years.
Today, it is widely accepted that marijuana has two different species: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. Cross-breeding of the two types has led to a wide variety of hybrid strains with unique characteristics.
The differences between indica and sativa remain a subject of much debate, especially among scientists who study the plant. However, most agree that indica and sativa plants are distinct in a number of ways.
The most accepted way of distinguishing indica versus sativa is by appearance, or what scientists refer to as morphology.
Indica plants are short, densely branched and have wider leaves. They are better suited for growing indoors.
Sativa plants are tall, loosely branched and have long, narrow leaves. They are usually grown outdoors and can reach heights of up to 20 feet.
Besides appearance, indica and sativa plants have different effects on their user. These effects include:
- relaxing and calming
- body buzz or ‘couch lock’
- best suited for night use
- uplifting and energetic
- cerebral, spacey or hallucinogenic
- best suited for day use
Given that autism is not an official qualifying condition in any state with medical marijuana laws, the clinical trials are limited. However, the brave parents and anecdotal evidence urging this conversation forward is profound.
Meiko Hester Perez was raising a child with autism and is a struggle for any parent. Meiko’s son, Joey, had been diagnosed with anorexia and malnutrition, conditions directly associated with the pharmaceuticals being used to treat his autism. Mieko Hester-Perez, searched desperately for anything that could help her son and, after much research, she finally came upon medical marijuana as a possible solution.
Joey was diagnosed with autism at sixteen months, and by the time he was ten, the medications associated with autism had pretty much written him a death sentence. He was down to 46 pounds. – Meiko Hester Perez
Ultimately, armed with the research she had collected, she met with Joey’s psychiatrist to discuss using medical marijuana to treat his condition.
Hester-Perez’s advocacy organization, the Unconventional Foundation for Autism, tells the story of other parents who have used cannabis to reduce nausea and increase the appetite of children going through chemotherapy when treating cancer. Other parents have used medical marijuana to treat seizure disorders such as epilepsy or Dravet syndrome. In these cases, cannabis can be especially helpful in mitigating the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, which can often take a heavy toll on a developing body.
He also used to horde, and he was no longer hording, and he would hurt himself and others — and because I have a two-year-old, I didn’t know if I’d have to put Joey into some kind of a home. But he stopped doing that, too. All of the symptoms that we’d been seeing we started scratching off the list. And he doesn’t even get an edible every day. He may get one every three to four days, whereas he was taking other medications every day — and they were killing him. He was well on his way to death. – Meiko Hester Perez
In the 2015 case of nine year old Kalel Santiago out of Puerto Rico, the young boy had been completely non-verbal for his entire life. While he beat cancer at the young age of three, his diagnosis of autism was still drastically effecting his day-to-day functioning. However, everything changed when his parents decided to order a CBD spray as a potential treatment for their son. Following two days of the spray, Kalel began to speak, speaking his first words at school with the recitation of “A-E-I-O-U”.
You can’t imagine the emotion we had, hearing Kalel’s voice for the first time. It was amazing. The teacher recorded him and sent it to my wife and me, and we said, ‘well, the only different thing we’ve been doing is using the CBD. – Father of Kalel Santiago
In addition to anecdotal evidence, former director of the Autism Research Institute and founder of the Autism Society of America, Dr. Bernard Rimland, has reported, “I’m not pro-drug, but I am very much pro-safe and effective treatment, especially in cases when an autistic individual’s behaviors are devastating and do not respond to other interventions. Early evidence suggests that medical marijuana may be an effective treatment for autism, as well as being safer than the drugs that doctors routinely prescribe.”
Numerous parent advocacy groups exist, including Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) and the Unconventional Foundation for Autism, continually pushing this dialogue forward.