A new study on how marijuana affects autism will undoubtedly fuel the flames of the debate over medical cannabis, particularly given its implications on the uncharted use of pot in kids for medical conditions.
The study on how marijuana affects autism is not the first to suggest cannabinoids can be helpful not only to older people with conditions like cancer, glaucoma, and even AIDS, but younger people who we’ve spent decades trying to “protect” from the supposed deleterious effects of weed.
Ben Whalley and colleagues at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics, University of Reading, using mouse models of epilepsy, established safety and showed that CBD and another cannabinoid, CBDV, exert anti-seizure and anti-inflammatory effects. This research came to the attention of families in the US who had loved ones with epilepsy. That marijuana affects autism in a possibly therapeutic way adds to the chorus of parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who have suggested the mild sedative can supplement or even negate the need for stimulant and speed-like drugs commonly used to treat the condition. (Such as Ritalin, Adderall, or any of its high-potency brethren.)
While some apply preconceptions that marijuana exacerbates ADHD almost all California cannabinologists believe cannabis and cannabinoids have substantially improved the lives of ADHD sufferers, and with less negative side effects than common stimulant drug ADHD treatments.
The results in treating ADHD with cannabis are often spectacular. Patients report grades going from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. Dr. David Bearman, a physician practicing in Santa Barbara, California, reports patients have said, "I graduated from the Maritime Academy because I smoked marijuana," and "I got my Ph.D. because of smoking marijuana." Almost universally, ADHD patients who therapeutically used cannabis reported in helped them pay attention in lecture, focus their attention instead of thinking of several ideas almost at the same time, helped them to stay on task and do their homework.
70 percent of the brain's job is to inhibit sensory input from the other 30 percent. Typical ADHD symptoms include distractability. The most accepted theory about ADHD rests on the fact that about 70% of the brain's function is to regulate input to the other 30%. The cause of ADHD is probably a decreased ability to suppress sensory input both internal and external input (need a reference here). Basically the brain is overwhelmed with too much information that comes too fast. In ADHD, the brain is cluttered with and too aware of all the nuances of a person's daily experience. This phenomenon is caused by a dopamine dysfunction.
Since the endocannabinoid system was discovered, many studies revealed that marijuana also modulates the dopamine system and therefore has a potential for ADHD treatment. As recounted in the physicians' stories below, marijuana may be a safer, less costly, and more effective treatment than anything available from the pharmaceutical companies.
The Effect on Autism
The study, published in the journal Neuron, examines how marijuana affects autism in children and the possible therapeutic applications of the drug in such a context.
Researchers have examined the effect of marijuana on mice in similar fashions, and The Joint Blog quotes earlier research:
“Danielle Piomelli of UC Irvine and Olivier Manzoni of INSERM, the French national research agency, treated mice exhibiting symptoms of Fragile-X Syndrome, a disorder that causes autistic symptoms, with novel compounds that correct the signaling of endocannibinoid transmitters in the brain [which cannabinoids can do]. The mice showed dramatic behavioral improvements in maze tests measuring anxiety and open-space acceptance.”
University of Maryland neuroscientist Bradley Alger did not participate in the most recent research on marijuana’s autism effects, but says that the study opens more doors in drilling down the mysteries of autism:
“It’s a very stimulating finding which could be a real turning point in understanding tonic endocannabinoids and how this otherwise mysterious lipid signaling really works.”
Researchers say much more study on how marijuana affects autism is needed before considering the therapy a practical application for the condition, particularly in children.
About the author
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.