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Living with Autism


July 2, 2011

Autism and Medical Marijuana

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Medical Marijuana and Autism: Is it Worth Trying?

Yes, but with extreme caution. 

Medical marijuana (MMJ) isn’t always safe for people with autism. Mainly, because nobody is checking the potency or validity of the strain you can get at a dispensary or from wherever you get your strains. 

There are hundreds of different cannabis strains. HUNDREDS!
Thus, it is IRRESPONSIBLE for people to blindly claim that medical cannabis helps people with autism. How do you know which strain helps people with autism? You'd have to analyze each strain. Not everyone is using the same strain of cannabis. There are some strains very high (pun intended) in THC. No bueno for people with autism and epilepsy. 

Some people who ingest certain MMJ strains high in THC may develop ticks or twitches upon smoking cannabis. Hence, you don't tell others "cannabis is great for autism." Very reckless. And ignorant. Do your research. 

Medical marijuana smokers call twitches that you can get from cannabis “kibbying.” Here’s an example of an anecdotal report from someone on a marijuana board on net: “It's 9:30pm, I have 4 pages left to go on a paper that’s due in 12 hours. FUN! So what do I do, I get higher than I've been in a long time! Bad idea...I know, but the point is that right now I’m twitching. I always twitch when I get REALLY stoned…” 

Sounds like this student should've tried a strain higher in CBDs or immediately smoked a strain high in CBD to counter the effects of the higher THC strain. But that's something a DOCTOR should be overseeing. A doctor through your insurance who can prescribe an FDA approved cannabis medicine that has been TESTED for authenticity. Not some bag of weed you picked up from a buddy or at a dispensary. 

Here’s another post on same website from ANOTHER person who got twitches from MMJ. “I got twitching for the first time a while back (after getting very, very high), and it kinda scared me. Really quite bad in my legs and arms, for about 15 minutes. Uncontrollable. Strange. Can't say much more besides I've been there before, but if anyone has an explanation for that, I'm all ears...” Source: http://www.marijuana.com/medicinal-marijuana/2612-ahh-twitching-horrendus-twitching.html

Apparently, Medical marijuana (MMJ) comes in 3 strains: Indica, Sativa and Hybrids. Hybrids are a mix of both and are either “indica dominant” or “sativa dominant.” Example: A Hybrid could be 70% Indica/Sativa 30%  or 70% Sativa/Indica 30%

Sativas: Many MMJ users report sativa strains have anti-depressant affect, treat chronic pain, increase focus and enhance creativity.  

Sativas are higher in THC. MMJ users further report sativas good for low grade pain, anxiety, nausea, energy and body buzz. Apparently, a body buzz feels good. Unclear if “body buzz” would scare or comfort an autistic person. I noticed users report MMJ sativas as having side effect of “clear head” or “fuzzy.” Good information, as I would not want to use a MMJ strain for my autistic son that caused fuzzy thoughts. We’re aiming for clear, calm, happy thoughts here.

Indica strains: Reported to be more sedating, used for acute or chronic pain, muscle relaxing, insomnia, nausea and anorexia. Some indica strains stronger than others. Marijuana users describe stronger strains causing “couch lock.” This means you are so high you apparently sit on a couch and can’t move. Doesn't sound fun. However, if you're an autistic person pounding yourself in the head, and nothing is working to stop this dangerous behavior, this could be a reasonable, safe option. 

Hospitals routinely use Thorazine, Haldol, Ativan and Zyprexa to "couch lock" an out of control patient--- basically knocking them out cold, so why not heavy dose of cannabis for a patient having a behavioral crisis, right? Right, but the problem still remains that there's NO FDA approved cannabis yet that can do that. So, why not focus on pushing the FDA to approve medical cannabis? Why not support medical cannabis research? 

Research shows human brain has Cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors target hippocampus, limbic system and basal ganglia and have anti-convulsive effect. CB2 receptors are found in immune system and have an anti-inflammatory effect

As per research, it appears strains HIGH in Cannabidiol (CBD) would be the more medically sound strains. Strains high in THC increase social anxiety and isolation, clearly not what you want for severe autism. Cannabidiols also act on 5HT1a receptor, which is a receptor targeted by antidepressant drugs and leads to the uplifting, pain modulating effect.

So: Cannabis sativa is higher in THC. Cannabis Indica is higher in CBDs. 

 Based on research, it doesn't seem logical to give strains high in THC to an autistic person with epilepsy. 

THC can cause hyperexcitability in brain. NOT good for epileptics.  

For a good video that talks about strains high in CBDs, I found this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qroKHwQEVl8

Also this website has info: http://projectcbd.org/

Let's be truthful: HALDOL, Risperdal, Zyprexa and other powerful anti-psychotics, have done more harm than good to the autistic population. They are DREADFUL drugs. Toxic. 

Surely, it would behoove autistic patients with serious behavioral and medical issues to have access to medical cannabis with high levels of CBD’s.
Medical marijuana is also used to as an appetite stimulation for autistics and other challenged individuals who are HIGH RISK for suffering serious medical problems and might need a G-tube (gastrostomy tube) because they won't eat.

HOW does MMJ interact with frequently prescribed medications, such as Prozac? Nobody really knows. Yet, IF sativa strains target serotonin receptors, for example, might ingesting pure sativa or sativa dominant strains risk triggering “serotonin syndrome”? And, if INDICA strains are thought to elevate dopamine, might someone on a dopamine elevating pharmaceutical be at risk? Too much dopamine can trigger psychosis.

Consider one study that showed Schizophrenics given cannabis strains high in SATIVA (the strains most likely to raise serotonin levels) had LESS schizophrenic symptoms. WHY? Drugs that increase serotonin decrease dopamine. 

By reducing dopamine in the schizophrenic brain, you could, theoretically, lessen symptoms. 

Too much dopamine=schizophrenic behaviors. TOO LITTLE dopamine=Parkinson’s disease.

In a study by Pamela DeRosse at Long Island’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, schizophrenics who smoked cannabis “had faster brain processing speed, greater verbal ability and better memory than patients who didn't smoke”. Studies show there are "clinical and biological links between autism and schizophrenia." Thus, what worked for the schizoprenic patient, may work for someone with autism. 

However, the study fails to show which marijuana strains were smoked, which is important information, since different strains target different brain receptors.

Warning on using medical marijuana with autistic people: too much THC (9-tetrahydrocannabinol), an active ingredient in marijuana, can cause hallucinations, paranoia and psychotic episodes. 

Yet, there’s something called cannabidiol (CBD) in select strains that reduces and even reverses THC induced psychosis. 

Strains high in Cannabidiol (CBD) supposedly have anxiolytic and antipsychotic effects. 

It would seem logical then to consider marijuana strains HIGH in CBDs and LOWER in THC for an autistic patient. 

Of course the entire idea of medical marijuana for my autistic son is a odd, as I’ve always hated pot. 

The idea of smoking something that makes you hungry and slows your cognition never appealed to me, but I can see how people who are in pain or suffering could benefit from it. 

Also, when you’ve witnessed Haldol causing your child to go into retrocollis and have a olygiric crisis, you start to look more favorably at medical marijuana. I will never forget what Haldol did to my son. It was as if someone had assaulted him with a toxic chemical. Anti-psychotics are CONTRAINDICATED for patients with autism. They are largely ineffective and cause serious side effects. Alas, what the heck do you do then when a person with autism is having a behavioral crisis? Or having seizures? Well, you go to cannabis. I totally get it. I understand how parents would feel so desperate, hopeless and angry that their child wasn't getting effective treatment that you would get that cannabis card and think it's all good from here. But don't be fooled. NOT ALL cannabis helps people with autism. It is the responsibility of people advocating for medical marijuana and autism to do their research and educate people about which SPECIFIC strains worked for your child and why. Don't just say, "my kid used medical marijuana and now life is groovy." That's low level shit. Elaborate. 

Still, I’m concerned about how MMJ could trigger seizure activity. Nobody knows why. This is my theory: when the CB 1 receptor is activated by marijuana, it may inhibit GABA release. GABA is what helps quell seizure activity, so if GABA is inhibited, couldn’t that lower seizure threshold? 

And the more smoked or eaten, the more GABA it would inhibit, thus this explains people reporting they get twitches when “really high.”

Interestingly, some people mix smoking marijuana with taking valium, as if they are self-medicating. Valium increases GABA in the brain.

Here’s what one person said on another marijuana site on net: “get this when I smoke and even when I'm sober, I get random twitches which I never had before.”

Don't know why, but when I pop a xanax before smoking, the twitches don't come. Actually, they don't come at all when I'm on pills.” Source
: http://www.bluelight.ru/vb/archive/index.php/t-103795-p-4.html.   (Xanax elevates GABA in the brain)

These random pot heads don't realize they are self-medicating against myoclonic seizure activity induced by the most likely high THC cannabis.

How would you give medical cannabis? 

Most severely-autistic persons can’t or won’t smoke marijuana, so the mechanism of delivery becomes eating marijuana, which can have a different effect on the brain. For one, when eaten, the onset, peak and duration of marijuana is a lot longer than if smoked.  

Secondly, according to cannabis doctors, cooking with marijuana can deliver unequal and more powerful doses if not done correctly. 

Once you get a prescription, you can go to Dispensaries to find medical cannabis food to give your child. They are called, "edibles."

Evidence showing the mechanism of action of specific marijuana strains is LACKING. Not good. 

If indeed certain cannabinoid receptors are targeted and do DIFFERENT things, than it’s critical to KNOW which strains act accordingly on receptors in order to prescribe that strain for medicinal purposes! 

Perhaps there is no big push in MMJ community to do this, because too many people don’t give a rat about the medicinal purposes and are only there to get high, as seen in the long lines of perfectly healthy 20 yr olds entering marijuana dispensaries. 

Oh well, maybe they have a headache and advil just doesn’t quite do the job. It’s none of my concern, I’m just concerned about if it can help my autistic son not smash his fists into his head. And have less or no seizures. 

Other things you may not know about medical marijuana:

1.              Synthesized THC is known as dronabinol  or Marinol and sold as a schedule 3, prescription drug
2.              Synthesized THC is not very effective
3.              SATIVEX is an FDA approved drug derived from cannabis plants
4.              Sativex more effective since it has higher CBD
5.              Mechanism of delivery for sativex is oromucosal (sprayed in mouth), which could serve as a great rescue medication, if it works, for self-injurious behavioral meltdowns
6.              Pharmaceutical companies have already entered into exclusive marketing agreements for Sativex
7.              Sativex is marketed in Canada by GW Pharmaceuticals
8.              There are female and male cannabis plants. Females are supposedly higher in the good CBDs that help epilepsy, dystonia, etc…
9.              Endocannabinoid system in brain is responsible for maintaining homeostasis. MMJ targets these receptors
10.       Retired law enforcement officials are rumored to be involved in the medical marijuana business. Guess retirement packages aren't too good these days.



Claire said...

Excellent post. I did not know about MMJ and seizures. A few years back, good old fashioned pot would have been good for my daughter (I hate the stuff too...never smoked it in my life). She is prone to anxiety and at the time was often nauseated and had poor appetite. It looked like a good thing to ease all of those symptoms. The medical stuff, typically, lacks balance...for lack of a better word...and there is no way in hell I could get it off the street...so we passed, and I still wonder.

MattW said...

I appreciate the summary and the questions it raised!

Cannabis4Autism said...

Hi Kim,

This is excellent thank you. Have you seen "Cannabis for Autism" on Facebook?

I'm a 39 year old asperger, I use cannabis as medicine and I've been using it for over 20 years.

I've been studying the science full-time for about a year now, I can answer all of your questions but I cannot type that much. Would you be happy to talk on skype sometime?

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