The formal term for sensory sensitivity is sensory processing disorder (SPD) — also known as sensory over-responsivity or sensory integration dysfunction — which is characterized by sensitivity of one or more of the senses, like how migraine sufferers are sensitive to light or strong odors. It affects one in 20 children as either an unfortunate inconvenience by itself or related to another disorder like autism, epilepsy, or mental health issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and generalized anxiety disorder. If left untreated, SPD can continue into adulthood.
Research from Colorado State University supports the theory that those with SPD have brain processing mechanisms that differ from those without it, and that sensory integration therapy — immersing patients in guided, sensory input in order to retrain brain responses — is a common and effective treatment. But when patients are suffering from acute sensory attacks, sensations can be uncomfortable or even painful, and quality of life can be vastly reduced.
Cannabis extracts have emerged as a complementary or stand-alone component in treatment for multiple conditions that impact sensory sensitivity. Because cannabis comes in a variety of forms — skin creams, oils and tinctures, even edible foods — it can be used to target a multitude of different symptoms. Because non-psychoactive cannabis has only a few minor side effects and isn’t lethal even in high doses, it’s considered a relatively safe option for patients of any age.
In epilepsy, sensory sensitivity can manifest as “auras” of the different senses, some stronger than others; for example, a study in Epileptic Currents explained how auras related to touch can result in intense pain — in addition to pain associated with some seizures — and auras from smell and taste often cause nausea, two symptoms that cannabis extracts are proven to treat.
The cannabinoids CBD and THC are proven to relieve pain and ease nausea respectively, so cannabis extracts that contain both can help reduce the adverse aural effects in epileptic patients — and cannabis tinctures that you drop under your tongue provide the fastest and strongest relief. Plus, the Tehran University of Medical Sciences’ research shows that cannabis remedies in general can help protect the brain as a whole.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Studies show that at least 90 percent of autistic children suffer from sensory sensitivity. This sensitivity dissipates over time in most autistic adults but one concerning symptom in children is food selectivity, a strong aversion to a food’s smell, appearance, or texture which includes resisting to take medication. Children who need to reinforce eating habits usually undergo behavioral therapy, but remedies like cannabis oil could complement this treatment plan.
Studies show that cannabinoids like THC can help stimulate appetite and since cannabis extracts are infused into edible products like honey or candy, picky children may be more likely to consume them. In addition, other autism symptoms like hyperactivity, mood or sleep problems can be improved by cannabis’ ability to calm, sedate, and increase euphoria, just be sure your chosen remedy contains CBD and not THC which is inappropriate for children and can have adverse psychoactive effects for young adults.
The image of a migraine sufferer trying to dull her symptoms is familiar: wearing sunglasses indoors or resting in a quiet place, and, while treating migraines with pharmaceutical drugs — sometimes multiple in a day — can be effective, it isn’t prescribed for the pain sensitivity some migraines patients experience in between bouts. Considering that medication-overdose headaches or rebound headaches can result from taking a large amount of prescribed medications, a better option for sensory issues could be cannabis.
Cannabinoids THC and CBD have proven analgesic effects that experts believe may be superior to ibuprofen, and in addition, CBD has anti-anxiety effects that will calm other sensory discomfort patients might experience alongside migraines. If you want to give your digestive system a break from medications, try a sublingual cannabis tincture or vaping CBD oil, two simple methods that quickly alleviate symptoms.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Particularly in children with ADHD, a coexisting sensory processing disorder can cause aggression and delinquent behavior like screaming or throwing tantrums. Adults may not react the same way as kids to their sensory overload, but the discomforts are the same, and CBD or cannabis treatments can help ease these symptoms in both groups, though the proper dosage or method may differ.
CBD has proven anti-anxiety effects which can calm the stress that sensory sensitivity brings, and CBD oils or edible cookies are an easy-to-use method for children. CBD oil that also contains THC is even more effective in stress reduction, so it’s a good option for adults but could result in psychoactive effect — though CBD is known to reduce this impact.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
According to a 2010 study, individuals with anxiety and sensory over-responsivity react fearfully to things that distress their senses and they’ll do anything to avoid them, like adults who avoid hugs from loved ones due to unpleasant touch sensations. Cognitive behavioral therapy or psychiatric drugs like SSRIs are accepted treatments, but if you need relief from acute sensory attacks, cannabis options may be helpful as well.
Overly-reactive senses can cause patients pain or distress and natural, non-addictive cannabidiol — used to make CBD oils, skin creams, or food products — helps decrease these effects, plus it’s safe for everyday use. Parents can give children CBD tinctures or candy, and adults can take these same remedies or opt for a fast-acting CBD oil vaporizer–all without adverse effects.
Although sensory sensitivity is an annoyance for many people, for others it’s a true disability in the brain that calls for consistent treatment to retain quality of life. If you or your child have issues with overly sensitive vision, hearing, or other senses that make everyday life uncomfortable, talk to your doctor about relieving symptoms with cannabis extracts and educate yourself further about this common, but disconcerting, disorder.
The content on cannabisMD is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.