Intro to Cannabis for Autism
by Nurse Janna, RN, BSN, Holistic Nurse & Warrior ASD Mama
In the Autism Parent community, word spreads FAST. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve surely heard the stories about seemingly miraculous results from a parent who discovered cannabis for their ASD child. I’m one of those parents, and can personally vouch for the extreme positive potential of this most controversial herb. *Disclaimer: Legally accessed and administered*
As a holistic nurse focused on natural alternatives to pharma, residing in a cannabis-legal state, learning how best to apply medical cannabis therapy was a logical decision for me. Cannabis quickly became a major life passion, as this amazing plant was integral in saving my own ASD teen daughter from out-of-home placement. I thought of doing what many consider unthinkable (foster placement), due to safety concerns when my daughter suffered a major puberty crisis, with high-level behaviors including self-injury, aggressive rages, and property destruction. I can attest: there’s nothing more helpless than watching your child suffer to the extent of injuring themselves and others in a blind rage.
The trauma of puberty crisis is experienced by an estimated 50% of Autism families, and is therefore an exceedingly common presentation during many a child’s coming-of-age (1). Having been there myself, I completely empathize and offer hope of resolution upon connecting with kindred ASD parents. After recovering my own daughter from her ASD puberty crisis, my resulting passion turned our trauma into purpose: to help other families.
I’ve since personally guided many ASD parents through optimal application of cannabis therapy. For most it has provided safe and effective relief, and eased their family crisis. As an added bonus, many using cannabis have successfully weaned off harmful mental health pharmaceutical medications, some of which have permanent side effects (google extra-pyramidal symptoms, not a good scenario). *Disclaimer: I highly recommend medical oversight for pharmaceutical weaning.*
The only shame of this process is how many parents don’t consider cannabis therapy until every other option to manage their ASD child is completely exhausted. No judgment by the way. It’s lack of education about cannabis that prevents consideration of this safe and effective option. Now that word is spreading, many parents are using cannabis as a crisis prevention strategy (sometimes well before puberty) and the ASD biomed treatment addage “the earlier the better” certainly seems to apply.
I want to be clear that the goal of medical cannabis use for ASD isn’t for parents to get their kids “high” to mellow them out. Instead, the goal is to improve internal balance and optimize function, through individualized microdosing and experimenting to find the “sweet spot” titration. The experimentation process is needed because individual cannabinoid needs vary greatly. With successful medicinal cannabis titration, even with use of psychotropic components such as THC, a “high” is rarely discernable.
Now for the science supporting cannabis therapy for Autism. First and Foremost: Endocannabinoid Deficiency Predisposes Autism (2). Read that a few times and let it sink in for a minute. For those who are brand new to the Endocannabinoid system (ECS), think of it as the motherboard that manages the interactions within and between our body’s organ systems. The role of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis (maintaining balance) throughout the rest of the body. In response to an imbalance, the ECS will intelligently rebalance what’s out of skew. This includes some important areas for treating ASD such as neurotransmitter balance, immune modulation, and mitigating inflammation (3). In fact, one cause of ASD is genetic Endocannabinoid System receptor mutations which lead to ECS deficiency (4). The cannabis plant has the most prolific source of phytocannabinoids available to supplement what is lacking in the ECS of those with ASD. This explains why cannabis can have such a profoundly positive impact as an intervention for Autism.
So, how exactly does cannabis benefit one with Autism? Well, let’s start with symptom management. Cannabis is very effective at minimizing or completely stopping extreme Autism behaviors before, during, or after puberty. The anxiolytic (5), pain-relieving (6), and anti-inflammatory (7) effects of cannabis seem to come in particularly handy for managing Autism behaviors. In addition, cannabis is considered very safe with much milder side effects compared to its pharmaceutical alternatives (8). Hence the symptom management piece that is renowned for alleviating harsh situations in ASD families, even when at or near their breaking point.
In addition to its symptom management efficacy, cannabis also promotes balance of some underlying issues that cause Autism...hence my inclination to call it potentially “curative”. Biomedical ASD 101: Autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental impacts that result in pervasive imbalances, predominantly in the gut, brain, and immune systems (9). When cannabis activates the Endocannabinoid System, the effect includes balancing of all three of these major organ systems gone defunct in ASD. Cannabis is immune modulating (10), neurotransmitter balancing/neuroprotective (11), plus anti-inflammatory to the gut and brain (12), to name a few of the profound curative effects. Cannabis itself has definitely been one of the “big hitters” in recovering my own ASD daughter, who made more progress between the ages of 11-14 (post cannabis) than in the biomed-heavy decade prior.
If you have a child with Autism who you believe may benefit from cannabis, but are unsure where to begin, I highly recommend connecting with Mother’s Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA). I urge you to seriously consider this safe and effective therapy if you have a child with Autism.
In the next blog I will review optimal starting formulations and cannabis components that are especially helpful for individualizing cannabis therapy. I hope this information is helpful for those new to cannabis for Autism, in understanding the powerful potential of this amazing plant to improve what is often considered untreatable by mainstream medicine.
For more information about my consultation services, please visit:
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Chakrabarti, B., Persico, A., and Battista, N.(2015). Endocannabinoid signaling in autism. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4): 837–847.
De Petrocellis, L., Cascio, M. G. and Di Marzo, V. (2004) The endocannabinoid system: a general view and latest additions. British Journal of Pharmacology 141, 765–774.
Dilja, D., Krueger, N. (2013) Evidence for a common endocannabinoid-related pathomechanism in autism spectrum disorders. Neuron: 78(3):408–410.
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Medical Marijuana vs. Traditional Pharmaceuticals (2016). Medicinal Marijuana Association, accessed online at: http://www.medicinalmarijuanaassociation.com/medical-marijuana-blog/infographic-medical-marijuana-vs.-traditional-pharmaceuticals
Caroline, G., Lopes, S., Silva, P., et al (2011). Pathways underlying the gut-to-brain connection in autism spectrum disorders as future targets for disease management. European Journal of Pharmacology, 668:S70–S80.
Thomas, W., Klein, L., Newton, C., Larsen, K., et al (2003). The cannabinoid system and immune modulation. Journal of Leukocyte Biology. 74(4): 486-496
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by Janna Champagne, RN, BSN
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, and it boasts the broadest therapeutic potential of any other component (1). CBD is widely known for its vast array of medicinal uses, including relief of anxiety, nausea/vomiting, mental health disorders, inflammation, cancer, AND...(drumroll please)...CBD kills infectious organisms (2). These facts, combined with CBD being readily available to purchase anywhere in the US (and many other countries), makes supplementation an excellent treatment option for many conditions.
But there's a catch! Caution is warranted when administering CBD for Autism or related immune or infectious diseases, and considerations are necessary or CBD may actually result in the opposite of the desired effect. Imagine taking CBD and expecting symptom relief, and instead having it worsen illness symptoms! Being a professional cannabis dosing nurse with Autism as one area of specialty, I have witnessed this very reaction on many occasions. Curiosity prompted me to further research this phenomenon, and now I'm sharing my theory and solutions below.
Fact #1: A major underlying factor for MOST kids with Autism and related immune disorders is chronic infections (3). Chronic infections result from a combination of factors commonly underlying in Autism, including endocannabinoid deficiency (4), which can contribute to the immune dysfunction that facilitates the presence of chronic infections.
Fact #2: CBD is the most powerful anti-microbial component in cannabis, making it a very therapeutic intervention for killing infections (5). CBD is especially helpful for remedying immune and infection-related disorders, because killing infections lowers the overall infectious load. This is a critically important step to recover a struggling immune system from it's chronic state of overwhelm, as seen in Autism and related immune disorders.
Fact #3: Another phenomenon supporting the potential for therapeutic benefit of CBD is research exemplifying an increase in production of CB2 (Cannabis-specific) receptors in the bodies of those with Autism. So the Endocannabinoid Systems of those with Autism are literally begging for cannabis supplementation (6). Pretty exciting stuff to this cannabis nerd!
So what's the problem with giving CBD to someone with Autism or chronic infections? It's not so much a problem per se. It's the conditions that exist, which if not taken into consideration, may result in worsening of symptoms. Basically, giving CBD as a first-step intervention without taking any of the appropriate precautions is the equivalent of feeding a starving person Thanksgiving for their very first meal. It's going to overwhelm their system and make them feel worse!
One possible issue that arises from giving CBD to a patient with Autism or chronic infections is the die-off effect, also known as a Herxheimer reaction. Die-off occurs when harmful infections are killed, upon which their cell wall ruptures and they release an influx of toxins into the body. Of course, the actual killing of harmful infections is a positive therapeutic action.
BUT with Autism and related immune disorders, die-off may increase illness symptoms when:
1. CBD is dosed too aggressively (detox can't keep up with die-off)
2: CBD is given without prior optimization of the detoxification pathways.
Without effective detoxification, die-off toxins add significantly to the already high levels of toxins found in those with ASD (7). A Herxheimer reaction is known to increase symptom severity, which in Autism often presents as a spike in behaviors (especially in those with impaired communication abilities).
Those who do not understand Herxheimer reactions may incorrectly blame CBD or cannabis for the symptom exacerbation, when the issue is actually caused by inefficient detoxification. The good news is that detox efficacy can be supported through a variety of interventions, including epson salt baths and activated charcoal administration (8) along with nutrigenomic interventions to optimize the body's own detoxification pathways. That brings me to another contributing aspect.
Fact #4: Most children with Autism (70-80%) have mthfr genetic mutations, which impair glutathione production, so they lack what is arguably the most important antioxidant in the human body (9). Glutathione deficiency alters many areas of health, with one major impact being decreased ability to detoxify and clear toxins effectively. So if nutrigenomic detox pathway optimization isn't completed, combined with a CBD-triggered increase in toxic load from die-off, then boom: Herxheimer misery. This is best described as feeling like a severe flu, and in some cases the severity may require seeking medical attention...no wonder we see a spike in Autism behaviors!
In summary, CBD has considerable therapeutic potential as an intervention for Autism and related immune disorders, but I recommend taking special consideration of the patient's detoxification status before starting CBD supplementation. This helps prevent a severe die-off reaction, and decreases the risk of an adverse event that may discourage use of cbd, however beneficial.
Of course, there are additional considerations, such as a CBD-rich strain's tendency to be more sativa dominant in terpene profile, which may also be problematic for some with Autism or anxiety. This exemplifies the need to work with a practitioner who views clients from a holistic perspective, and can individualize recommendations based on a broader view of the mechanisms involved. That's what holistic nurses do!
At Integrated Holistic Care, we offer help for those seeking support in managing therapeutic cannabis to treat Autism and related immune disorders and beyond. If you would like more information, or to schedule a consultation, please visit our website at: www.integratedholisticcare.com
1. J Nat Prod. 2008 Aug;71(8):1427-30. doi: 10.1021/np8002673. Epub 2008 Aug 6.
2. Zhornitsky S, Potvin S. Cannabidiol in Humans—The Quest for Therapeutic Targets. Pharmaceuticals. 2012;5(5):529-552. doi:10.3390/ph5050529.
3. Jepson, Bryan, and Jane Johnson. Changing the course of autism: A scientific approach for parents and physicians. Sentient Publications, 2007.
4. Siniscalco, D., Sapone, A., Giordano, C. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2013) 43: 2686. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1824-9
5. Lone, Tariq Ahmad, and Reyaz Ahmad Lone. "Extraction of cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L. plant and its potential antimicrobial activity." Universal Journal of Medicine 1.4 (2012): 51-55.
6. Siniscalco, D., Sapone, A., Giordano, C. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2013) 43: 2686. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1824-9
7. Grandjean, Philippe et al. Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity
The Lancet Neurology. 2014; 13(3): 330 - 338
8. Woeller, Curt MD. Autism Treatment: Herxheimer reactions and Autism. Website: http://autismrecoverytreatment.com/autism-treatment-%E2%80%93-herxheimer-reactions-and-autism/
9. Boris, Marvin, et al. "Association of MTHFR gene variants with autism." J Am Phys Surg 9.4 (2004): 106-8
By Janna Champagne, RN, BSN + ASD parent
I talk with clients about the importance of epigenetics and nutrigenomics every day and often get the "wha???" response. With a little explaining, the light bulb brightens until the realization hits. Yes it's true, epigenetics are a major cause of many chronic illnesses, including Autism Spectrum Disorders (plus many other conditions) .
I consider nutrigenomics so important for recovering kids with ASD, that it's often the first tool I grab from my bag of tricks. The following is my rationale for prioritizing nutrigenomics plus some bonus info on the subject. Because I'm sweet like that😊
First, a couple of helpful definitions:
1. Epigenetics- environmental impact on gene expression (switches genes on and off)
While our genes are inherited and static (DNA doesn't change), every gene has an on and off switch that can be triggered by environmental factors. This is a phenomenon known as epigenetics. University of Berkeley has been integral in researching and has published extensively on this subject.
2. Nutrigenomics is the term for genetically individualized supplementation used to offset the health-damaging results of epigenetic mutations.
Basically it's like the oil for your car. Helps keep all the moving parts flowing as they should. (It's really more of a chemical thing, but I'm a fan of car analogies)
3. Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (snp) is a fancy name for a gene. Pronounced "snip" in conversation.
In referring to mutations:
Homozygous means inherited from both parents, (double=more severe impairment)
Heterozygous means inherited from only one parent (single=less severe impairment).
The most recognizable snp in regards to health impact is mthfr (methelenetetrahydrofolate reductase). In this case mthfr isn't the abbreviation for a bad word, but if this mutation isn't offset, the "less PC" term is a fair description of the insult to ones health. See, mnemonics work!
Mutation of mthfr is found in 70-80% of those with Autism. This mutation manifests as lack of an enzyme which impairs the body's ability to metabolize (break down and utilize) folic acid appropriately. Ample folate is pretty important, so this is kind of a big deal.
Those with mthfr end up with folate deficiency, which results in lacking critical components for several foundational chemical cycles. Correct folate metabolism is required for production of neurotransmitters, detoxification (glutathione production), neuro development, immune balance, and the list goes on. Bonus question: which epidemic childhood illness features these very deficiencies and imbalances? You guessed it....Autism.
The severity of mthfr mutation impact varies. Homozygous (double) mutation causes an 80% impairment in folic acid metabolism, while heterozygous (single) is only 40% impairment (while less the impact is still significant). Offsetting mthfr mutation requires nutrigenomic supplementation, which entails matching individual gene mutations with the best nutrient formulations to fill the specific deficiency. This ensures the body gets critical nutrients despite the missing chemical reaction links.
Mthfr is just one of several dozen Autism-applicable snp's that are addressed through our nutrigenomics consulting process at Integrated Holistic Care. The gene test kit costs $99 and uses saliva, which is collected at home and submitted by mail. Easy peasy.
There's is a prioritization to therapeutic nutrigenomics, and mthfr is not the first snp on the list, so medical oversight by a knowledgeable practitioner is strongly advised. Our body is one system made of many moving parts, all of which work synergistically. The order snps are addressed is individual and based on which mutations are present, with consideration of all the moving parts and the body as a whole.
I chose to exemplify mthfr because it's the popular kid, the most readily recognized, and reputable information can be found here for those wishing to delve deeper: www.mthfrsupport.com *Disclaimer: the information contained herein may cause overwhelm and anxiety. No worries, a nurse specialized in nutrigenomics is standing by, and consult scheduling is just a click away! www.integratedholisticcare.com/services
The take home message is that nutrigenomic interventions help slow or stop a major contributor of the imbalances and toxic build up causing symptoms of Autism. Once the foundational/causal issues are addressed, faster recovery from the collateral damage is facilitated. Nutrigenomics helps halt the incoming toxins, and facilitates clearing what's already built up. For those with Autism, this is a necessary component to healing and the road to recovery.
Happy to answer questions😊. Please share if you found this helpful. Wishing you all a blessed New Year❤