As autism is being better understood, the number of treatments and drugs that can help with the condition have increased. Autism itself is turning out to be a whole spectrum of neurological differences, even with forms of the condition looking the same from the outside, the causes are found to be varied.
Because it is so badly understood, and because the effects of autism can be so difficult to live with for the autist themselves and the people who live with and care for them, people have been struggling to find anything that will help alleviate the suffering that is so common. Many drugs, special diets, therapies,have been tried. If you can think of it, someone has tried it.
Clearly, it is an issue with a lot of emotions tied into it. Looking after autistic people can be a full time job, exhausting and upsetting all at the same time. Low-functioning autistics face a life they cannot understand. Whereas some high functioning autistics can understand the world but not how to interact with it. Regardless of how much love and care we as a society provide for them, many will face insurmountable difficulties.
Things are looking up, however. The neurological differences that produce an autistic brain are being explored, the causes established and hopefully at some point in the future, ways of preventing the worst extremes of the condition will be found. Neurodiverse individuals and people with developmental disabilities, many of whom fall under the (extremely wide) categorization of autistic, deserve to be respected in their differences, so any attempts to prevent or change neurodiverse people’s minds should only be done with their best interests at heart, not anyone else’s.
There are a huge number of difficult ethical quandaries surrounding the treatment of neurodiversity, especially in the low functioning or young. Knowing how to help when they cannot communicate is sometimes impossible. Children with autism quickly pass developmental “milestones”, especially under 2 years of age, giving parents and carers a real sense of urgency. What to try? What will work? How can we possibly know? Can people be trained to connect people with neurodiverse brains?
Currently, the neurodiverse population is gaining acceptance. Treatment has massively improved, early intervention is showing signs of success, societal attitudes are changing (the term neurodiverse was barely known in mainstream media until a few years ago) and new and old drugs are being found that can help alleviate the worst parts of an autistic person’s experience.
If you are reading this article, the chances are that you have read about or heard about CBD and want to know more. If you are the parent or carer of a child with autism you will likely have heard some of the hype surrounding CBD. This article will help address what is autism and how does it relate to CBD.
Cannabidiol is one of the 100 plus cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. It is naturally occurring and is also found naturally in the human body. The role of CBD in the body remains unclear, but scientists have found that it alters the way that other cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system which is linked to our immune systems.
Small studies have linked mutations in the genes that regulate the endocannabinoid system to what is autism. This is only preliminary work, but it could be the beginnings of a path towards understanding how CBD can positively affect neurodiverse people. The endocannabinoid system controls emotional responses, so changes there can presumably result in some of the overwhelming emotions common to autism. Also, there is some evidence that links some forms of autism to the immune system, suggesting that the immune cells are possibly attacking or preventing certain cell growth during development. CBD has a broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory effect, so that could be the reason for the apparent positive effects.
Children with Asperger’s syndrome, a common form of autism, can exhibit repetitive behaviors, have difficulty with social interaction, find noises and lights disorientating, struggle to cope with things that neurotypical people take for granted. A pervasive developmental disorder, while the terminology might be a little tasteless, is the possible reason for these conditions. Children with ASD are a broad group, but all show differences in the ways that their brain has developed.
A person with autism is not someone who necessarily needs to be treated. As information, tools and resources have improved, many ND people are finding ways of having full, successful lives without having to interact in a way they do not understand. For many, however, the wish to “be more normal” is a driving force for them to find treatments or things that will help them find a way in life that is more independent and enjoyable. CBD could be one such way of doing this.
Since the relaxation of the prohibition of cannabis products in the last few years, CBD has grown in popularity. One side effect of this relaxation is that there is an enormous amount of hype surrounding the drug, with mountains of anecdotal evidence that it is capable of some amazing feats. Undoubtedly, there are some cases where the effects have been down to the CBD, but without much study it is extremely difficult to know. This is the problem with the current state of cannabis science: it hasn’t been done yet. There are some small scale studies, and some are extremely hopeful, but strong, large scale studies are rare.
Trying to stick to the science is tough with such an emotionally charged subject. The desperation of parents for their children to be able to learn, interact and have a successful happy life is one of the most powerful forces in nature. So, when another parent is talking about how CBD made it possible for their kid to go to school, or mediated their violent behaviour, or let them simply relax more, it is hard to resist such evidence. Using relatively untested drugs on children is not recommended. Ethically and legally, it is a minefield. However, there is reason for hope. CBD has a very good safety record.
The Safety of CBD
Because nearly every study ever performed on CBD shows that it is a tolerable, safe and relatively effective drug, it makes it an ideal candidate for some low-risk experimentation. Children develop very fast, and missing developmental milestones can mean that development is always slower, or they do not ever catch up. So anything that can prevent this looks like a holy grail. It is still a risk to take but trying CBD with autism could be one of the better things to try.
The Legality of CBD
CBD is only legal in some countries. In many states of the USA, it is possible to obtain it without prescription. Unfortunately, in other states it can land the user in jail. Most of Europe bans the drug, but some countries allow its use in therapeutic conditions on prescription. This makes it a risky choice for some. It is not recommended that the reader do anything illegal. Where CBD is legal, it can be obtained in pure form or as the active ingredient of other products. For the safe and measurable administration of this drug, the pure form is recommended.
Pure CBD can be used in comparable doses and give the doctor who is prescribing it a good idea about its effectiveness. There is currently very little guidance, other than from people who have tried it themselves, on how to use CBD effectively. There are several potential methods of administering CBD.
CBD does not have a pleasant taste but it is tolerable. It can be swallowed for a longer-lasting effect, or placed under the tongue (sublingually) for a more immediate dose. For young children, putting a gummy bear or sugar cube under the tongue with the oil can make it much more bearable. If not, mixing it with any kind of drink in measured doses is recommended. Rubbing the oil into the skin is another method that some have found to be effective. The soles of the feet are a commonly used area for the administration of CBD, but as to why this would be more effective is not understood.
Mixing CBD into a topical cream could be a good way of administering CBD to a young child who has rejected oral treatment. Applied in relatively high concentrations, it can get CBD into the bloodstream surprisingly fast. Always start with a low dose and build up, measuring for effect. Only use CBD on the recommendation of your doctor or paediatrician who is dealing with the case.
The Effects of CBD
At this moment in time, the effects of CBD on autism are not well known. This is for two reasons. The first is that autism itself is not well understood. The second reason is that CBD is not well understood. So as you can see, it would be crazy to make any presumptions about using CBD to treat autism when we know so little about both.
However, going on anecdotal evidence, CBD appears to help some autistic people. The restricted repetitive behaviors of some ND people can be lessened, focus can be improved, violent and aggressive behaviors ameliorated, communication skills improved, moods stabilized and improved. When any of those conditions are improved, the child or adult can have more headspace to learn, interact and enjoy themselves.
Being ND can be enormously challenging and upsetting. CBD looks like it can help calm people down and stabilize them. Some children have been able to attend school for the first time when using CBD, other adults have found the first effective ways of avoiding the “tunnel vision” approach that many autistic brains take to processing information. The list of possible benefits really is endless.
From what people are saying about CBD, it seems to have a lot going for it. It is a desperate shame that so little study has gone into it but, thankfully, that looks likely to change.
CBD Deregulation, Legalization and Future Research
Because of the wealth of anecdotal evidence, CBD is being taken seriously amongst the scientific communities in which it is legal to study CBD. This means that in the next 10 or so years, there will probably be a much greater understanding of not only autism and CBD, but how the two interact and how best to use CBD for autism.
Every neurodiverse person’s brain is different, so what works for one might not work for anyone else. The endocannabinoid system is ubiquitous, however, so agents that work with it while not poisoning the body, addicting the brain or causing long-term side effects are very hopeful indeed. That is no reassurance to parents and loved ones who are looking for ways to treat their ND child. They are developing fast and the changes made to the brain as a child are the most long-lasting in that person’s lifetime. It remains up to the parents, in consultation with their child’s doctor, to make a decision about whether CBD is appropriate.
Read the scientific papers on the web, talk to people, but proceed with caution. The brain is a complex, beautiful thing. Messing with it should only be done with all the facts in hand. Until the facts can be established, it remains a risk. Compared to many other treatments, or the potential effects of doing nothing, those risks look to be worth exploring with CBD.