What is Autism, what is the connection between cannabinoids and ASD and how does CBD treat autism?
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex behavioral condition with its onset during early childhood and carries a lifelong course. It is characterized by deficits in communication and social interaction, as well as by stereotypic behaviors, restricted patterns of interest, and abnormal social cues.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.5%, or 1 in 68 children in the United States have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. The number of children diagnosed has increased tenfold over the last 40 years, with boys four to five times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.
Subscribe to the
Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter
Extensive research has revealed that dysfunction of the endocannabinoid system (eCB) is responsible for the four phenotypic features known to be atypical in autism:
…Social reward responsivity
What is the connection between cannabinoids and ASD?
The answer is neuroligin-3. Neuroligin-3 is a protein that is mutated in individuals with autism. Its function is to tone down the communication between neurons. When communication cannot be toned down, the result is excessive “white noise”. Excessive white noise interferes with the autistic child’s ability to focus, to conduct proper social interactions, respond to social cue’s, and in general appear “normal” to others.
The initial studies of autism-associated mutations in neuroligin-3 were performed in mouse models. Evidence from these studies found a relationship between atypical neural development (resulting in ASD) & dysfunction of the “tonic eCB” system.
“Tonic eCB” is a relatively new concept. The endocannabinoid system is always functioning, sometimes at a low, or senescent level, and sometimes in spurts. When the neuroligin-3 receptor does not work, the tonic eCB cannot work properly. Anandamide levels are not able to increase or decrease relative to the outside environmental triggers, whether they be social cues, wake/sleep cycles, anxiety stimuli, or even eye contact.
In other words, this research indicates ASD (the autism spectrum disorder) is caused by the anandamide level not being in balance.
How does CBD treat autism?
CBD works inside the cell, not on the cell surface. Therefore, when CBD is given to treat those suffering with autism spectrum disorder, there is no risk of tolerance, drug withdrawal, or addictive potential.
CBD blocks the fatty acid blocking proteins (FABPs) resulting in the return of homeostatic anandamide levels, and a more even “centered” mood.
Since both CBD and THC come from the cannabis plant, why not use THC (“weed”) instead?
Though both THC and CBD increase the anandamide level, they do so by binding to different areas of the cell. THC binds to the CB1 receptor on the outside of the cell surface, and CBD exerts its affects directly within the cell. This results in three important differences.
#1 When THC binds to the CB1 receptor on the cell surface, it causes upgrading of the CB1 receptor which means that more and more THC is required to get the same effect. This happens to be the very same process seen in opioid addiction.
#2 If your child is predisposed to schizophrenia or psychosis, the THC can unmask it. When THC is given to a person before the brain is physiologically mature – which does not occur until young adulthood, it can cause permanent “rewiring” of the brain, and overt psychosis.
#3 There is no negative feedback when THC is used. As a result, the anandamide level cannot be perfectly balanced. It is the imbalance of the anandamide levels that results in autism. In those suffering from autism, the inability to “turn down the volume” of the “white noise” that causes the child to turn inward emotionally, thereby shutting himself out from the rest of the world.
CBD works inside the cell, in the area that the anandamide is created and broken down. The direct feedback between the anandamide, the FABP and the CBD allows the anandamide level to be micromanaged so that the level is as perfectly balanced as possible.
Take home point: Autism spectrum disorder has a possible treatment – one that is safe, one that is effective, and one that has been shown many times over to be without any major side effects. CBD is that treatment.
- “Autism-Associated Neuroligin-3 Mutations Commonly Disrupt Tonic Endocannabinoid Signaling.” Neuron, 2013 (in press) DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.02.036
- “Reduction in endocannabinoid tone is a homeostatic mechanism for specific inhibitory synapses.”. Nat. Neurosci.2010; 13: 592–600
- “Autism-linked neuroligin-3 R451C mutation differentially alters hippocampal and cortical synaptic function.” Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 2011; 108: 13764–13769
- “The molecular logic of endocannabinoid signaling.” Nat. Rev. Neurosci.2003; 4: 873–884
- “Endocannabinoid signaling as a synaptic circuit breaker in neurological disease.”. National Medicine2008; 14: 923–930
- “Supply and demand for endocannabinoids.” Neurosci.2011; 34: 304–315
- “Mutations of the X-linked genes encoding neuroligins NLGN3 and NLGN4 are associated with autism.” Autism Research International Sibpair Study National Genet.2003; 34: 27–29
- “Neuroligin-2 deletion selectively decreases inhibitory synaptic transmission originating from fast-spiking but not from somatostatin-positive interneurons.”Neurosci.2009; 29: 13883–13897
10.“Autism-linked neuroligin-3 R451C mutation differentially alters hippocampal and cortical synaptic function”. National Academy of Science USA. 2011; 108: 13764–13769