Autism is a difficult disorder to treat with no treatments available. Mainly because of the many different causes and symptoms it can cause. However, many patients (and their parents) are desperate for effective treatment. Considering autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – as it is actually called – greatly affects social behaviour and communication. Now research shows that CBD oil could potentially reduce symptoms associated with various disorders on the autism spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Unfortunately, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a difficult disorder to treat. For some, this has to do with the fact that it can have many different causes. Therefore, the developmental disorder is associated with both genetic and external factors. This includes – but is not limited to – certain infections during pregnancy, toxins used (alcohol and other drugs), pesticides, air pollution and autoimmune diseases.
Therefore, the symptoms of the “disease” – if we can call it that – can vary greatly. In fact, the term “spectrum” in the name refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity that individual patients may experience. In general, however, autism is characterised by communication disorders, deviant social behaviour and limited mobility or repetitive movements. And as it starts in early childhood – often discovered within the first year – most patients are children. Fortunately, early and adequate treatment could significantly benefit the child’s development.
Inhibition of brain impulses
The symptoms of various autism spectrum disorders often originate in the brain. Considering that most of these are due to reduced inhibition of signals in the brain. And when these signals to the brain are not properly tamed, it can cause the brain to go into a kind of overdrive. This can be expressed as hypersensitivity to light, sound, smells and touch. This could cause patients to react undesirably with (physical) aggression or other extreme emotions, for example. Although in about 25 percent of ASD cases, overstimulation in the brain can even cause extremely severe seizures.
Consequently, scientists are focusing on inhibiting brain stimuli to reduce these symptoms and hopefully treat the disorder. Researchers at Stanford University have tested it on mice, which were modified to show autism-like symptoms. Using optogenetic lights, the scientist was able to increase the inhibitory function of the brain, which helped greatly in reducing the symptoms of autism. Although unfortunately this technique doesn’t work for humans (yet).
Studies on CBD and autism
Another group of scientists – from the University of Washington – tried to get the same results using a different treatment: Cannabidiol (CBD). This is one of the most well-known cannabinoids found in industrial hemp plants. But it is also the main ingredient in high quality CBD oil. A product that is really winning over the medical community because of its many potential medical uses. One of the most prominent, according to scientists, is the effectiveness of CBD as a potential treatment for Dravet syndrome, a severe form of childhood epilepsy. An effect that has been proven by clinical trials.
Considering epilepsy and autism both have to do with some form of limited inhibition of brain impulses – and autistic patients may even experience seizures themselves. It makes sense to investigate whether CBD oil has the same positive effects on autism. While most of the evidence on the effects of CBD on autism is simply anecdotal, there is this one clinical trial, completed in 2019, that we can rely on.
CBD and symptoms associated with autism
The Washington researchers used the animal model of Dravet syndrome to study the effects of CBD oil on autism-like symptoms. Although rodents could have spontaneous attacks and autism-related behaviour like humans, humans and mice are still different. In order to make the right comparisons and draw valid conclusions, certain situations had to take place.
One of these situations forced a mouse to choose between interacting with another mouse or with an inanimate object. Where mice prefer to spend time with other mice. Those with autistic traits (like Dravet) liked to spend a uniform amount of time with the object as he did with the mouse. However, when treated with a small dose of CBD (about a tenth of the antiepileptic dose). The researchers reported an increase in time spent with the other mouse.
Effects of CBD oil on autism
Thus, autistic mice were prone to avoiding social interaction at first and literally hid in a corner. Scientists say that this reaction comes from social anxiety, caused by excessive social stimuli. With the use of Cannabidiol from industrial hemp, this behaviour decreased. On the other hand, the animals showed an increase in the quality of their social interaction.
In short, this shows that CBD improved the situation at both measurement points. We should note though, this was a study conducted on mice and the results for humans may not be the same. Although the Internet is full of anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of CBD oil in treating children with autism:
By recording the electrical signals in the brain of the rodents in the study, scientists were able to understand how CBD actually works in a brain with autism. Apparently, CBD blocks the GPR55 receptor. Which in response increases the inhibitory function of brain cells and restores balance in the brain. Considering that this receptor is responsible for communication between brain cells.’