Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that shows up at early stages of life, generally starting from the age of three. The cause of this condition is believed to be the sum of multiple factors, and it is four times more common in men than in women. Genetic and environmental factors alter early brain development, resulting in difficulties in communication, social interaction, sensory processing, and behaviour.
The first studies on autism spectrum disorders can be traced back to 1943. Later on, after 1980, this condition was diagnosed more and more frequently until the clinical term “autism spectrum disorders” (ASD) was introduced. This category comprises conditions with many symptoms, but they all share a common characteristic: a difficulty in communicating with the outside world.
Early diagnosis is an essential element since creating an environment of support, acceptance, and respect is key during the first stages. Specific and comprehensive early behavioural interventions may improve communication skills and reduce anxiety and aggressive behaviour. Regarding drug treatment, there are two frequently used medications: risperidone and aripiprazole, which are both antipsychotics. These treatments are usually aimed at inhibiting behavioural symptoms, but they do not deal with language impairment or social interaction and—in fact—they sometimes worsen.
Cannabis and Autism
A 2019 study assessed the response of 188 patients with ASD to a treatment using medical cannabis between 2015 and 2017. Most patients were administered cannabis oil containing 30% CBD and 1.5% THC. Six months in, 155 continued with the treatment, of which 30.1% reported significant improvement, 53.7% moderate improvement, 6.4% slight improvement, and 8.6% perceived no change in their condition.
Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis
Several preclinical studies evaluate the potential alterations of the endocannabinoid system in people with autism spectrum disorders. Stimulating this system using cannabis extracts may relieve the symptoms of these disorders by modulating brain activity and providing neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits. Dr. Gisela Kuester, neurologist at Fundación Daya Argentina, claims these facts correlate with her experience: out of 21 patients diagnosed with ASD who went under a treatment using homemade cannabis extracts rich in CBD and THC, 71% improved their quality of life and the connection with their surroundings.
Another noteworthy case is the Argentine Programme for Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (known by its Spanish acronym, PANAACEA), which published a survey of 100 families of people with ASD using medical cannabis. The results revealed that 90.3% of users improve their levels of attention and their ability to focus thanks to cannabis and their derivatives.
Dosage and Administration Forms
Patients are advised to use varieties that are rich in CBD or containing equal amounts of THC and CBD. Macerated cannabis oil—taken orally or sublingually—is a highly useful and efficient choice. Medical advice should be sought if patients are taking anxiolytic, antidepressant, or antipsychotic drugs.