What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or simply “autism” was previously different from Asperger’s syndrome. However, experts currently believe these to be the same diagnosis.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their surroundings. It is characterised mainly by problems with communication and social interaction. These individuals often demonstrate repetitive behaviour and/or stereotyped interests. Autism is a lifelong disability where individuals fall on a spectrum.
Autism is found in individuals all around the world, but is more common in boys than girls. The ratio is usually considered to be 4 males: 1 female. In Australia, around 164,000 individuals are diagnosed with autism. This is an overall prevalence of 0.7% of the Australian population, or 1 in 150 people. In America, the prevalence is much higher, with around 1 in 54 children diagnosed with autism. These figures are increasing each year, which signifies that any cures or therapies currently being researched should be expedited.
There are five different subtypes of autism. When diagnosing autism, it should be mentioned if the individual has one or more of these specifiers.
Different types of autism
- With or without intellectual impairment
- With or without language impairment
- Associated with a medical/genetic condition or environmental factor
- Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental or behavioral disorder
- With catatonia
What are the symptoms of Autism?
Autism symptoms usually begin to show at around 12-24 months (1 to 2 years of age), but they can also appear earlier or later. A child can show symptoms very early in age, from only a few months old, but a child can also seem to be developing normally and then suddenly show symptoms. Around 50% of parents notice issues around 12 months and 85% by age 2 years.
Early symptoms may include a noticeable language delay or significant delay in social development.
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) separates the symptoms of autism into two categories – problems with communication and social interaction, and restricted/repetitive patterns of behaviour and activities.
Problems with communication and social interaction include:
- Difficulty with communication, including difficulties expressing emotions healthily, sharing interests with others, or maintaining a conversation
- Issues with nonverbal communication, such as eye contact and reading body language
- Difficulties developing and maintaining healthy relationships
Restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour or activities include:
- Repetitive movements, behaviour, or speech patterns
- Strictly following routines
- Significantly more or less sensitivity to sensory information (such as sounds, smells and lights)
- Fixated and specific interests
Individuals are evaluated on each category and the severity is taken into account for diagnosis.
Individuals will likely have symptoms their whole life, but many can learn skills and therapies to live a full life. As the spectrum is so wide, some may have very noticeable symptoms (like being nonverbal) and others may be very unnoticeable.
What causes Autism?
The exact cause of autism is unknown. Most current research indicates that there is no single cause and that it is likely due to a combination of factors.
Some of the suspected risk factors include:
- Having an immediate family member with autism
- Genetic mutations or disorders
- Being born to older parents
- Low birth weight
- Metabolic imbalances
- Exposure to heavy metals
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- A history of viral infections
The research has been extremely clear that vaccines do not cause autism. Many studies have looked at this association and have found no evidence towards a relationship.
Medicinal CBD for Autism
There have been many anecdotal suggestions that CBD has decreased the symptoms associated with autism (1, 2). Some parents have even described the effects as “unbelievable” and that it leads to a “dramatic improvement” (1). This has led to them sharing their opinions on the internet with other struggling parents. This is most common in the USA, where cannabis is a more common medication than in Australia.
A study conducted in 2018 (2) focused on 60 children with a mean age of 11.8 years that were diagnosed with autism. Following their oral cannabis treatment, researchers found that behavioural outbreaks were much improved or very much improved in 61% of patients. Disruptive behaviours were also improved an average of 29% for the children (2).
Anxiety was found to be much improved or very much improved in 39% of patients with autism (2). Anxiety is a common comorbid condition of autism, with around 40% of children with autism also diagnosed with anxiety. A review of literature that was published in 2020 found that CBD was an effective method of reducing anxiety in patients (3). Between the eight articles in the review, it was found that anxiety was reduced anywhere from 36% to 80%.
Parents also reported that they were significantly less stressed when their child was taking the oral cannabis (2). Their overall stress levels had decreased 33%. It can be difficult parenting a child with a disability such as autism, and many parents have reported feeling overwhelmed or depressed. Please see our page on CBD for depression if you feel CBD may help you with your depressive emotions.
Could CBD cure Autism?
There has been very limited clinical research on the effects of CBD oil on autism symptoms. However, there have been many anecdotes from frustrated parents about the wonders of CBD oil.
Professionals have also stated that there is no cure to autism. They believe that it can only be managed, not cured. If more research shows that CBD oil happens to be an effective treatment and reduces the symptoms so severely, these experts may change their minds and declare CBD oil to be a cure for autism.
At present, we are still awaiting for a large-scale study on the effectiveness of CBD oil to reduce the severity of autism symptoms. However, smaller studies have shown that many symptoms of autism have been reduced after the usage of medical marijuana.