It is difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from autism around the world. This is because some people have it mildly and are not even registered as being autistic. However, the National Autistic Society estimate that in the UK, more than 1 in 100 people suffer from Autistic Spectrum Disorder (or ASD), that’s over 700,000 people.
ASD affects people across all races and cultural backgrounds (although it is slightly more common in men than it is in women) and affects the way that you understand and interact with the outside world.
Some people who suffer from ASD mildly, might report difficulty in communicating what they want to say and how they feel, as well as have difficulty interpreting what other people say and do, but for severe sufferers, ASD can be life inhibiting, drastically affect how they can interact with other people, and, for some, even impede their ability to talk.
ASD usually develops during childhood and is a neurodevelopmental condition which often involves compulsive and repetitive behavior. We still don’t know what causes the development of ASD, with scientists believing that it is probably a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. This does mean, however, that there is still no cure for ASD, and any treatment that is given is mainly to treat its symptoms.
ASD and Epilepsy
There is a strong link between ASD and epilepsy. In fact, research shows that about 32% of people who suffer from epilepsy are also on the autistic spectrum, and likewise, 20-30% of children on the autistic spectrum develop epilepsy.
Like ASD, epilepsy is also on a spectrum and is a neurologic condition where nerves in the brain can fire abnormally, often resulting in a seizure. There are over 40 different types of seizure, which can happen at any time, day or night – even when people are asleep, and therefore potentially putting people with the condition into life-threatening positions. Some people can suffer over 100 seizures every day.
For people who suffer from both ASD and epilepsy, life can be very difficult, but by helping to treat the symptoms we can start to see improvements in people’s day to day living.
Help for people with ASD and Epilepsy
At the moment the two main treatment options for ASD are behavioral therapies such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Verbal Behaviour Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Relationship Developmental Intervention, and treatment for some the symptoms of ASD such as epilepsy (and seizures), nausea and depression.
Although behavioral therapies have been proven to be very effective, until we know more about how ASD develops and grows, it will be very difficult to actually find a cure for it.
Treatment for epilepsy is focused on the reduction of severity and frequency of seizures. There are a number of things that can cause epilepsy, including genetic disposition, trauma to the head, infections in the brain, and other conditions such as Autism, but there is little that can actually be done about preventing or curing it.
How can CBD help with ASD?
The cannabinoid, CBD – or Cannabidiol – is a natural compound which can be extracted from the Cannabis plant. One of the most important things about CBD for humans is that it can affect our Endocannabinoid System – the system in our bodies which keeps everything regulated and balanced.
Some of the systems that the Endocannabinoid system helps to regulate, include:
- The immune system
- The nervous system
It is the compound called THC that is present in the cannabis plant, which will make you feel high, and although it does have some benefits to your health, most people try to avoid it. The law in many countries or states is also not keen that you take THC, as in a lot of places any cannabis-derived products should have less than 0.2% or 0.3% (check the local laws to confirm) for it to be legal. Taking these sorts of levels of THC won’t make you feel high at all.
When CBD is taken, it affects the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor in the Endocannabinoid system. Serotonin is a chemical in the body which affects mood (including anxiety and depression) and nausea and appetite. Nausea and depression are two very common symptoms of autism and this is one reason why CBD can be very beneficial.
CBD can also inhibit the breakdown and reuptake of Anandamide – another chemical in the brain which can have antidepressant qualities.
There is also plenty of evidence to show that CBD is anxiolytic – meaning that it can reduce anxiety –
which often comes hand in hand with low mood or depression.
Whilst CBD cannot be used to treat ASD directly, it’s impact on the endocannabinoid system suggests that it can be very helpful in dealing with some of the symptoms of the condition.
CBD and Epilepsy
One of the most notable qualities that CBD has for humans is its apparent ability to help some people who are epileptic. In fact, there are now some medicines available in some countries which use CBD to help to reduce seizures in a small number of cases. To read more about What is CBD follow the link
Researchers believe that CBD can help to raise the endocannabinoid tone in the brain, meaning that some parts of it are protected better, and this results in the reduction of seizures.
It has also been suggested that CBD can have an effect on the part of the brain which is responsible for the exchange of information – known as the Hippocampus. Scientists believe that it is when these exchanges are disrupted, seizures occur. So, by taking CBD it is believed that it can have ‘antiepileptic’ effects by helping to protect from these disruptions.
Evidence and Research
The fact that cannabis has been illegal for almost the last 100 years, has meant that there is still a relatively limited amount of research to back up the wealth of anecdotal evidence. Although we are seeing more and more research being done, there is still a long way to go to understand all of the potentials that CBD and the cannabis plant has.
There are, however, many cases of people who claim that CBD and other cannabis-derived products have and do help them to control their or a family member’s epilepsy and it seems that it is bringing relief to some of the symptoms suffered by people with the two conditions, helping to improve their lives.
Despite all of this anecdotal evidence, however, it is absolutely vital that if you are epileptic, suffering from ASD, or both, you don’t stop taking your medication, and if you feel like you want to try CBD, that you speak to your doctor first. CBD can impact how effectively some medicines work, by changing the performance of the liver’s enzymes. So, if you are thinking of trying CBD, or are taking CBD and your doctor is going to prescribe you something else, you must make them aware.
It won’t necessarily mean that you can’t take CBD, just that you might need to adjust your dose quantities or be more aware of how you are feeling.
Studies around the world, but especially in Israel and the USA are quickly gathering information about the potential of CBD for people with ASD and epileptics, ensuring that it can be as safe and effective as possible and helping the authorities to be able to properly regulate it. By dealing with the symptoms, we are not getting to the route of the problem as yet, but we will at least be able to help people to live easier and better lives reducing the impact of their condition on their quality of life.
This is a guest post by Karen Asprey from CBD Resource. Karen Asprey is a CBD writer and enthusiast who has made it her one-woman mission to break down the taboo of cannabis, and make it more accessible to those who can benefit from it.