CBD and Autism

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Hi. My name is Hiba and I am guest blogging for Wendy today.

I got to know Wendy through a yoga studio in Carlsbad where she teaches and I also babysat her kids on a few occasions. I babysat Luca before he was diagnosed with Autism and to be honest, at the time, I would never have suspected anything out of the ordinary other than the fact that he was and is a brilliant child. He had just turned 4 at the time and he was already reading books to me the first time I met him. Given the fact that I was a really introverted child and connected with books long before I connected with people, I felt an instant connection to Luca and his love of reading. Fast forward a few months and Wendy got the diagnosis. “How did you know?” I asked. She mentioned that her husband had suspected something based on a few observations and when tested, sure enough, Autism. Wendy did not waste a single day feeling anything but hopeful for Luca. She took a diagnosis and made it her teacher. She found opportunity in the face of adversity and she realized that by shifting her perspective she could understand Luca on a whole new level. And by seeing the world through his brilliant mind she could understand the world in a whole new way. The desire to make the world a place where Luca would thrive, coupled with the opportunity she seized to make that happen, created a perfect storm for Wendy to start her mission with EVOL and

And that is where I come in again. I believe in Wendy’s mission so much that I want to help her on this wonderful journey she has set out on. I too want a world where Luca can thrive. And guess what? Given that the CDC has determined that 1 in 68 people are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (Autism, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder) and given that it is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States, we actually have no choice but to make this a world where people with Autism can thrive. ASD affects neurological development and is not identified through one single behavior, but, instead, crosses the behavioral spectrum to include impaired communication and social skills, along with compulsive and repetitive behaviors. Autism typically emerges in infancy or early childhood and although there is no known cure for Autism, occasional recovery has occurred. The science behind the causes and treatments of Autism is still not very conclusive and oftentimes caregivers are at a loss in trying to help their loved ones.

Given that the science is lagging in this field, only two medications have thus far been approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the symptoms of Autism. Both are antipsychotic drugs that are not always effective and carry serious side effects. As an alternative to these drugs, many scientists and caretakers are optimistic about the documented cases where the plant, cannabis sativa, and its derivative Cannabidiol (CBD), has been successful in the treatment of ASD. Most of the CBD used medicinally is found in the least processed form of the cannabis plant, known as hemp.

Until recently, the most well-known compound in cannabis was delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the most active ingredient in marijuana. THC is well-known for the mind-altering "high" it produces when broken down by heat and introduced into the body. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. This means that it does not change the state of mind of the person who uses it. However, it does appear to produce significant changes in the body and has been found to have medical benefits.

All cannabinoids, including CBD, attach themselves to certain receptors in the body to produce their effects. The human body produces certain cannabinoids on its own. It has two receptors for cannabinoids, called CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found all around the body, but many of them are in the brain. The CB1 receptors in the brain deal with coordination and movement, pain, emotions and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, among others. THC attaches to these receptors. CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system. They affect inflammation and pain. It used to be thought that CBD acts on these CB2 receptors, but it appears now that CBD does not act on either receptor directly. Instead, it seems to influence the body to use more of its own cannabinoids. Because of the way that CBD acts in the body, it has many potential benefits.

A University of California study found that CBD regulates emotion and focus, acting as a neuroprotective against further brain degradation. Unlike prescribed remedies, there are no concerns about overdosing or serious side effects, providing a sense of security for caretakers. CBD has reduced anxiety, rage and hostility in patients by inducing a relaxed, steady and calm demeanor.

New research has also found that mutations found in individuals with autism block the action of molecules made by the brain that act on the same receptors as Cannabis. The findings implicate specific molecules, called endocannabinoids, in the development of some autism cases and point to potential treatment strategies. "Endocannabinoids are molecules that are critical regulators of normal neuronal activity and are important for many brain functions," says first author Dr. Csaba Földy, of Stanford University Medical School. "By conducting studies in mice, we found that neuroligin-3, a protein that is mutated in some individuals with autism. When the researchers introduced different autism-associated mutations in neuroligin-3 into mice, this signaling was blocked and the overall excitability of the brain was changed. "These findings point out an unexpected link between a protein implicated in autism and a signaling system that previously had not been considered to be particularly important for autism," says senior author Dr. Thomas Südhof, also of Stanford. "Thus, the findings open up a new area of research and may suggest novel strategies for understanding the underlying causes of complex brain disorders.” The results also indicate that targeting components of the endocannabinoid signaling system may help reverse autism symptoms.

Here is hoping that as the stigma around cannabis and CBD subsides, research will shed light on the exact link and proper dosing of CBD for a myriad of conditions, symptoms and disorders. As the research is still in its infancy, it is hard to tell with any level of assuredness whether CBD will be used as a form of treatment for Autism, but the possibility is certainly exciting for those looking for safe alternatives to harmful pharmaceuticals for their loved ones. The future of CBD is uncertain but Luca’s future is not. I am positive that as science races to catch up with the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States, Wendy will be right at the forefront cheering Luca on and urging the world to shift their perspective to see everyday wonders in the same light as this special boy. I am so happy to be a part of this journey in any way that I can.