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Living with Autism


August 12, 2011

Nicotine a Novel Treatment for Autism?

Award Winning Non-Fiction Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog DirectoryAfter studying the latest little know treatment for autistics with challenging behavior, I am convinced that Nicotine may be an effective treatment in treating autistics with intraccable behaviors. IE.... self-injury and aggression. While there is little media coverage on this treatment, research is promising. For example, nicotine has positive effects on acetylcholine and dopamine in the brain. Acetylcholine is often blunted in brains of autistics with challenging behaviors. This could explain why they remain such hard to treat patients. After all, if the brain is deficient in choline, you will have a difficult time learning.

 In order to TEACH an autistic person held hostage to self-destructive behaviors, you need windows of opportunity. Teaching moments, that will teach them to stop harming themselves, or others.

My severely-autistic son was first prescribed the nicotine patch on July 17th, 2011. As of today, August 11th, he has not had ONE episode of severe self-injurious behavior. Yes, he's had some hitting episodes, mostly involving slapping his thighs or hips, but no savage head hitting, which is something he's suffered with for many years, despite a myraid of conventional treatments.

Research also shows that nicotine is considered a novel treatment in other brain disorders. Case in point,

ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2010) — "A team of neuroscientists has discovered important new information in the search for an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease, the debilitating neurological disorder that afflicts more than 5.3 million Americans and is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Hey-Kyoung Lee, associate professor in the University of Maryland Department of Biology, and her research team have shown that they may be able to eliminate debilitating side effects caused by a promising Alzheimer's drug by stimulating the brain's nicotine receptors...."By stimulating the Alpha7 receptor with nicotine, we were able to recover normal brain function," explains Lee. "We are very hopeful that this will be a way to overcome the deficits seen with the BACE-1 knockouts...."

Indeed, nicotine therapy seems a logical if not critical treatment in some cases of autism. Who would think? Another example of science behind nicotine therapy for autism: "Autism is a common developmental disorder associated with structural and inferred neurochemical abnormalities of the brain. Cerebellar abnormalities frequently have been identified, based on neuroimaging or neuropathology. Recently, the cholinergic neurotransmitter system has been implicated on the basis of nicotinic receptor loss in the cerebral cortex. Cerebellar cholinergic activities were therefore investigated in autopsy tissue from a series of autistic individuals."

Source: Nicotinic receptor abnormalities in the cerebellar cortex in autism, by authors M. Lee, C. Martin-Ruiz, A. Graham, J. Court, E. Jaros, R. Perry, P. Iversen, M. Bauman and E. Perry. Study goes on to say, "Since nicotinic receptor agonists enhance attentional function and also induce an elevation in the high affinity receptor, nicotinic therapy in autism may be worth considering."
Like many parents with autistic childre, I am skeptical of treatments. I don't trust them, until I find definitive truth or reality about how the treatment can actually help an autistic person. Research on nicotine for autism is one treatment I can say, at least for now, is working.

The nicotine patch (which is not same as smoking tobacco) has most definately reduced my severely-autistic son's brutal self-injurious behaviors. Not only that, but we've all seen a marked improvement in his eye contact; has more self-control (isn't punching himself as quickly and frequently despite common triggers that spark self-injury), mood (seems happier), learning  (staring at books and words when we read them to him. And actually stooped down and moved pieces of a toy the other day), and increased motor skills (he's able to hold things like a pen or tipper cup longer).
I know, there is always a new treatment in autism that is met with anxious and desperate hope, but I'm telling you first hand, I and others have witnessed major improvement for our autistic son since the application of his first Nicotine Patch (14mg to start then, as per psychiatrist, we'll move to 7 mg).

Even more exiciting is, "Recent studies have indicated that nicotine can be used to help adults suffering from autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy. The same areas that cause seizures in that form of epilepsy are responsible for processing nicotine in the brain."  That's good news for autistics who suffer from these type of seizures.  Source: Lundbeck Institute

If anyone has testimony to Nicotine Patch or therapy being helpful for their autistic child or patient or client, please leave me a message. Treating autism is never a one therapy approach, we know that. But it does seem Nicotine therapy could be a novel and emerging treatment in children and adults with autsim. Professionals or researchers who are interested in this new treatment, please share your thoughts.

Finally, just saw a 2008 post by one of my favorite autism bloggers: See Facing Autism in  New Brunswick site article from November, 2008: http://autisminnb.blogspot.com/2008/11/autism-and-nicotine-addiction-neurexin.html.

UPDATE: October 3rd, 2011: Aside from one week of crazy SIB that was rooted in fecal impaction, the nicotine patch is still the most effective therapy we've found for modifying self-abusive behaviors. Perhaps, this is what is called "smokers paradox."


Autism Mom said...

I am so glad to hear of the success through the nicotine patch. I hope it continues beyond this first month trial and develops into long term relief of symptoms.

Casdok said...

Interesting...goes off to look up research...

DannJ said...

I was wondering if you were aware of this research study that targeted the alpha trigger DMXB-A derived from nicotine subunits?
It showed promise for Schizophrenia and with the research you pointed out here I am wondering if there is a consolidated place where nicotine research applications for mental health might be found?

Kim Oakley said...

Hi DannJ, the research supporting nicotine patch therapy is very limited. However, it's of great interest that books published on autism medical management mention cholinesterase inhibitors are sometimes used in the treatment of low functioning autism. It's also interesting many doctors look down on doing things like fMRI's in lower functioning autisitics, because they allegedly can't complete an fMRi, but my son's fMri was done under sedation and it showed blunted choline, which his neurologist didn't think was "important" in his medical therapy. It's all about connecting dots....I'm still actively searching and advocating for more research done on nicotine patch therapy because it seems safer than cholinesterase inhibitors. Also, huperzine A, DHEA and other lesser known therapeutic interventions could help boost choline in the brain, which of course, in my opinion, would enhance brain function, since increasing acetyl choline in brain of someone with blunted choline, seems logical. Nictoine patch is such a simple therapy, perhaps it's not well known yet because pharmaceuticals still dominate the market of the autism empire. God forbid something so easy as a nicotine patch could show such progress.

Kim Oakley said...

And yes, I have read the research on schizophrenics responding to nicotine therapy. Very interesting. In fact, there is a woman we know of whose husband and doctors are perplexed at why she suddenly went crazy, starting smoking cigarettes daily and isn't responding to anti-psychotics. She is suspected to have schizophrenia. Perhaps she's self-medicating...trying to restore brain function by smoking cigarettes, which are hitting her nicotinic receptors.

BBurke said...

I want to say thank you for posting the videos. I think it is a way to educate people about severe autism. In some of the videos there seems to be a male nurse. He looks wonderful. Did he have special training? Maybe he could train other home health workers how to deal with special needs adults in a compassionate way. I also wanted to know if you had heard of something called pandas and if antibiotics seem to help your child.

Our Little Rock Stars said...

We started using 1/4 of a 7mg patch just a couple weeks ago...we have slowly moved up to now a full 7mg patch. Wow...it really works. My son has intractable epilepsy...fancy wording for...the doctors can't control it with medication. He is still on Lamictal...because it atleast got rid of the aggression and made him much happier...but he still as of January was showing atleast 1000 complex-partial seizures a day and 1 grand-mal per day. Needless to say, since starting the nicotine patch...we have seen amazing things. He is happily playing with toys like we've never seen. He isn't just wandering the house, or rocking on his bed or the couch...he is engaging and interactive. Soooo happy. Listening to directions and even gave me a push on the swing today...amazing.

Skye said...

Howdy Kim,

I have been following your blog for some time and give you a deep curtsy for sharing your son's story. My 9 year old non-verbal daughter has had chronic self-injurious behavior for the past 4 years. Please keep posting the details of your nicotine patch trial so others with SIB kids can follow your progress. Sounds like something is finally helping your son...I share your happiness to have found a treatment to relieve his suffering. I've collected a few medical articles on the benefits of nicotine for neurological disorders. If anyone is interested in a pdf file of them, please let me know.

Can you tell me if you are trying nicotine on your own or with a doctor's "approval"? Any idea how much to start with for a 50 lb. child?

Many thanks Kim. Keep up the good fight.

Kim Oakley said...

To: Skye. Yes, we are using under doctor's supervision. Nicotine patch is prescribed for self-injurious behaviors, based on research I showed doctor. My son is about 135 lbs and uses a 7 mg patch, placed on different approved areas in morning, and removed around 4 pm, as to not interfere with sleeping. 14 mg patch is a used only when self abuse suddenly skyrockets and used only as temporary measure, as it's possible to overload system with too much nicotine. The good thing about patches is they aren't like smoking cigarettes. There aren't the same toxins involved. Ask your doctor to consider prescribing as an OFF LABEL use for autism and self injurious behaviors. I would say if your child is only 50 lbs, I'd imagine the patch at 7 mg would be indicated, but for SHORTER duration during day. Again, that is my opinion, only a doctor can decide that for your son. Please keep us posted! Best of luck with this.

Anonymous said...

FYI: my nephew had a functional MRI prior to surgery for a brain tumor ( it took the place of an invasive Wada test--he had an MRI, was given a cognitive task to complete and then had another brain MRI.
How can a person have a functional MRI while asleep?--the whole idea is to evaluate the brain before and after the cognitive task.

Shakes said...

Amen, brother. I have adult onset ADHD and Tourette's in the form of twitching so severe that I sometimes hurt my neck. I tried that and the gum, which for me both carried bad side effects. Now I've found the electric cigarette. I'm cured. Used in controlled doses, it helps tremendously with my concentration, and it stopped the twitching like shutting off a switch. And the mild euphoria it induces helps ease my depressive symptoms. I've got to tell you. For me personally, it's magic. I hope research continues. I think very promising treatments will come out of it. Thank you for your work

Bonnie said...

Kim- HAs the patch helped with his seizures and how is he today?

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