Autism refers to a range of developmental disorders that typically present in early childhood or adolescence, though some are diagnosed later in adulthood. The condition largely impacts social behaviors and communication patterns.
Autism is a complicated condition that is sometimes misunderstood and difficult to treat. However, CBD may offer an alternative treatment method for those seeking a more natural route. Read on to learn more about how CBD may positively impact autism disorders!
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder, often referred to simply as autism, is a neurological condition rooted in abnormal brain development. It is characterized by socialization and communication issues, as well as repetitive or limited behavioral patterns.
Autism as an umbrella term broadly describes several developmental disorders: autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and an unspecified type of pervasive developmental disorder. While these conditions do differ, they share many key developmental traits.
What are the Symptoms?
Autistic symptoms exist on a spectrum – that is, individual cases can range from very mild to quite severe. Not all cases look alike. Some common issues surrounding communication and social skills include difficulty understanding or appropriately responding to:
- Spoken language
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Simple questions or directions
- Nonverbal cues or gestures
- Tone of voice
- Nuanced conversations, such as humor, sarcasm, or other expressions not meant to be taken literally
- Emotions, including their own
- Taking turns during conversations
- Personal space
Signs and symptoms of autism extend beyond inappropriate social interactions. Many also exhibit repetitive or restricted behaviors such as:
- Resistance to change or variation (e.g., unvarying daily schedule, meal plan, clothing)
- Staring at spinning objects or lights
- Narrowed interest in specific subject matter
- Ritualistic behaviors (e.g., lining up objects, repeatedly touching objects in a specific order)
- Repetitive body movements (e.g., spinning, rocking, flapping)
- Repetitive motions involving objects (e.g., pushing buttons, switching levers, spinning wheels)
Although symptoms usually begin during early childhood, the signs may go unrecognized until later in life. Depending on the severity of symptoms, autism may be persistent and interfere with day-to-day functioning and well-being.
How is it Treated?
Currently, there is no known cure for autism; however, treatment can minimize many symptoms and sufferers can lead fulfilling lives despite their limitations.
Treatment usually involves one or several types of therapy, including:
- Behavior therapy
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Sensory integration therapy
- Social skills training
In the United States, many families receive help from a state-sponsored Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) that addresses children up to three years of age. For older, school-aged children, states often offer specialized Individualized Education Plans (IEP). These plans aim to improve behavior, communication and socialization skills, and self-care practices.
When therapeutic approaches aren’t enough, many turn to pharmaceuticals for help. These drug interventions usually target issues like anxiety, depression, or epilepsy, amongst other conditions that often coincide with autistic disorders. Unfortunately, these medications can come with unpleasant side effects.
Can CBD help?
While traditional treatments certainly help, many autistic patients nonetheless struggle along the journey to wellness. Autism is a complex disorder, and some aspects of its roots and mechanisms remain a mystery.
Luckily, CBD may relieve some of the symptoms and comorbidities that accompany autism.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound derived from the legal hemp plant. It is non-psychoactive, meaning the cannabinoid does not produce the “high” characteristic of marijuana consumption. Many parents opt for CBD when treating childhood disorders for this very reason – they want to avoid products containing significant amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychotropic cannabinoid found in cannabis plants.
CBD May Alleviate Stress and Anxiety
Because autism directly affects social interactions and can hinder effective communication, many autistic patients are hampered by severe anxiety. In addition, those suffering from autism report elevated stress levels, especially when they find themselves in overwhelming or overstimulating social situations.
CBD alleviates anxiety by triggering CB1 receptors in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which are crucial to mood regulation. When CBD interacts with these receptors, it produces the mood-boosting (and anxiety-reducing) hormone serotonin.
Several studies confirm the link between CBD and mood regulation. For example, this study found that CBD positively impacted limbic and paralimbic brain activity, significantly decreasing anxiety in patients with diagnosed social anxiety disorder (SAD). Another study additionally concluded that CBD decreased anxiety scores within just a month of treatment.
CBD Might Quell Aggressive Behaviors
Aggressive behavior is common among those suffering from autism. This symptom can be especially scary for parents and caregivers who are sometimes the target of hitting, kicking, biting, or scratching attacks. Even worse, a sudden rise in aggression may prove injurious to autistic patients themselves.
CBD reduces aggressive tendencies by acting on the same CB1 receptors that regulate serotonin production. According to this study, CBD reduced self-injury and rage attacks in over 67% of autistic participants between the ages of 3 and 25.
Additionally, this study found that CBD significantly reduced aggression in mice exposed to ongoing social isolation. Researchers here found that both high and low doses of CBD decreased the number of attacks performed by territorial, isolated mice towards intruder mice.
CBD Can Also Treat Co-occurring Seizures
Autism and epilepsy are two disorders that often run concurrently. In fact, statistics estimate that up to 30% of autistic patients also suffer from some form of epileptic seizure disorder.
CBD treats seizures by acting as an anticonvulsant. It binds with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to help reduce epileptic seizures. It also targets the tuberous sclerosis complex, which is thought to be affected by Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
This review observed that CBD not only reduced the severity of seizures once onset, but it also decreased the overall occurrence of seizures in children diagnosed with chronic seizure disorders. Additionally, researchers found that CBD use improved behavior and alertness, language, and motor skills. This study concluded similarly, finding that CBD diminished the symptoms of epilepsy significantly as compared to participants who received a placebo.
CBD acts as a therapeutic agent for a range of illnesses, from chronic migraine to debilitating neuropathy. Mounting evidence points to CBD as an effective natural treatment for many of the symptoms of autism, as well. As you and your loved ones journey towards better health and wellness, we hope that CBD aids you in the process.