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Autism and Medical Cannabis

Anandamide Deficiency in the Autistic Brain

The current rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the US for children 3 to 17 is now 1 in 41. That accounts for about 1% of the population. There has been an exponential increase in the incidence of the disorder over the past several decades. It appears that there is a very important clue that links cannabinoids and cannabis to autism. Researchers have discovered that the level of anandamide is very low in the brains of those with autism. Anandamide is a cannabinoid/neurotransmitter manufactured by the body that binds to THC receptors. The cannabinoids in cannabis, specifically high CBD, can increase the output of anandamide in those with ASD. There are several cannabis researchers who currently view many disorders as the result of an Endocannabinoid System Deficiency. By increasing the cannabinoids in the endocannabinoid system, many of the symptoms will disappear.

Anandamide, which comes from the Sanskrit word for “joy,” is known for its ability to cause relaxation and calm. It plays a part in reward, mood, appetite, pain relief, and reproduction, among many other functions. Since it is not easy to study the human brain, most of the information researchers have compiled about anandamide comes from rat studies. However, there is an increasing body of research on autistic children using cannabis oil.

ASD is characterized by sensory integration dysfunction, repetitive behaviors and an inability to understand typical human social cues. Autistic children often demonstrate impulsive, explosive and dangerous behaviors, including self-injury. Many children exhibit emotions of phobias, frustration and rages. The incidence of a significantly lower level of anandamide in the autistic brain implies that there is a direct link between this deficit and an endocannabinoid deficiency which accounts for the symptoms of ASD.

A recent Israeli study using high-CBD oil on autistic children resulted in an 80% improvement in their behaviors. The study was led by Dr. Adi Aran, director of pediatric neurology at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. The results were published in the journal Neurology. There were 60 participants with an average age of 12. They were chosen because they did not respond to conventional autism medications or therapies.

The children received 20:1 CBD:THC for 7 months.

At the conclusion of the study, parents were asked to assess a change in their child’s behavior, their anxiety level and their communication skills. 80% reported a decrease in problem behaviors. 62% reported a significant improvement in behaviors. 50% reported an improvement in communication skills and 40% reported a reduction in anxiety symptoms. Parents also reported an improvement in the ability of their children to transition which is particularly challenging for children with ASD. For parents who have cycled through multiple behavior and medication therapies with no success, these findings give hope to those who are struggling to manage their children.

CBD oil’s calming effects may help control the repetitive behaviors that are the hallmark of ASD; flapping of the arms, rocking back and forth and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Another prevalent symptom of autism is sleep disorder. Cannabis has been proven to be one of the safest and most effective sleep aids.

Advancements in scientific medical procedures allow researchers to detect anandamide through plasma tests instead of much more invasive techniques. The hope is that one day in the future, doctors will be able to administer extra amounts of anandamide to the brains of autistic children through plasma. More research on human subjects is needed to give credence to cannabis as a viable and safer treatment option for children on the autism spectrum.

Sources:, Anandamide: Endocannabinoid The Autistic Brain Is Lacking, Matt Weeks, Sept 10, 2018, Study: Cannabis oil 80% successful in helping autistic children, Arutz Sheva Staff, July 26, 2018  

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