Microdosing edibles for autism

Feb 20, 2024The nama Team
Microdosing edibles for autism

Microdosing cannabis has garnered attention as a potential aid for people living with autism. A 2022 systematic review suggested that THC and CBD may be able to help alleviate sensory sensitivity symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that, after the cannabis treatment, 61% of the patients experienced significant improvement in their behavioral outbreaks.

While research is still in its early stages, plenty of evidence points to the potential benefits of small amounts of cannabis in enhancing cognition, alleviating anxiety and sensory sensitivities, improving sleep—and so much more.

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What is autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. It is called a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of “symptoms” people experience.

Many people in the autism community prefer the term “traits” over “symptoms,” as “symptoms” is a term that is associated with a sickness or disease. We want to recognize autism as a part of someone’s identity rather than an affliction.

What are the traits of autism?

The severity of autism and autistic traits varies from person to person. They can range from mild challenges to more substantial disability requiring substantial support. As a neurodevelopmental disorder, the signs of autism arise from differences in how the brain develops and processes information. 

Some common traits of autism include:

  • Differences in communication skills: difficulty with gestures, abstract concepts, initiating or sustaining conversations, and question-based communication
  • Challenges developing and maintaining relationships and with peer interactions
  • Difficulty reading social cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language
  • Intense focus and specialized understanding of narrow interests
  • Use of repetitive movements or vocalizations to self-regulate
  • Preference for set routines and familiar environments
  • Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli like smell, touch, taste, sound, and sight
  • Fascination with visual stimulation such as lights, movement, taking things apart

What causes autism?

For most cases of autism, there is no known single cause. Here are some of the suspected causes of autism:

  • Genetics, specific genes, and genetic mutations 
  • Environmental factors: elderly guardians, complications during pregnancy or delivery, viral infections in the mother during pregnancy, air pollution, certain pharmaceuticals taken during pregnancy, etc.
  • Perinatal factors: oxygen deprivation during birth, low birth weight, fetal exposure to valproic acid, alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Brain structure and connectivity, e.g., too much or too little serotonin, dopamine, or GABA
  • Immunological and gastrointestinal factors
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Autoimmune response

While the exact causes are not fully understood, research suggests autism develops from a combination of genetic and environmental influences that lead to differences in brain structure and function. A Korean study explains that “ASD is a highly heritable disorder and that genetic susceptibility interacts with environmental factors in ASD etiology.”

Is there a treatment for autism?

Technically, autism spectrum disorder is not a disease in the same sense as cancer or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so it doesn’t really need treatments or “cures” in a medical sense. The main goals of autism treatment are to improve communication, social skills, behavior, and quality of life. 

Some common treatments and therapies include:

  • Behavioral therapy such as applied behavior analysis (ABA)
  • Speech therapy and occupational therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Dietary changes such as gluten-free and casein-free diets
  • Medications to manage symptoms
  • Alternative approaches (e.g., animal therapy, music therapy, or art therapy)
  • Educational support and accommodations
  • Assistive communication devices and technology
  • Support groups and community involvement
  • Parent, family, and caregiver education and training

Some people have tried microdosing cannabis to help with symptoms of autism (we like to call them traits). Based on what we already know about cannabis microdoses and how they interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), we’re hopeful that our low-dose THC gummies may offer a gentle way to balance overstimulation and ease challenges those on the spectrum face.

Endocannabinoid dysfunction in ASD

The endocannabinoid system is a complex cell-signaling network in our bodies that helps regulate all kinds of important functions—everything from pain to memory to appetite to mood. It's made up of special molecules our bodies produce naturally called endocannabinoids, the receptors they bind to, and enzymes that break them down. 

Think of endocannabinoids as natural keys that unlock certain receptors and trigger many different biological processes that help maintain homeostasis. The ECS works differently in people with autism. 

The endocannabinoid (EC) system represents a major neuromodulatory system involved in the regulation of emotional responses, behavioral reactivity to context, and social interaction. Furthermore, the EC system is also affected in conditions often present in subsets of patients diagnosed with ASD, such as seizures, anxiety, intellectual disabilities, and sleep pattern disturbances. (Zamberletti, et. al.)

The endocannabinoid system appears to be imbalanced in many forms of autism. Here’s how:

  • People with autism have lower blood levels of endocannabinoids such as anandamide, PEA, and OEA. They help regulate anxiety, cognition, repetitive behaviors, and other functions disrupted in autism. A 2019 study published in Molecular Autism found lower levels of these endocannabinoids in children with autism compared to neurotypical children. 
  • Certain receptor sites in the brains of people with autism may be overactive or underactive due to differences in the endocannabinoid receptors.
  • Endocannabinoid signaling and uptake is impaired. The natural endocannabinoids may not bind properly to receptors or be absorbed back into cells as effectively.
  • Enzymes that break down endocannabinoids may be overactive, prematurely reducing endocannabinoid levels.
  • Enzymes responsible for endocannabinoid synthesis may not be functioning properly in people with autism.

Other research indicates microglia cells have an active endocannabinoid signaling system that, if dysfunctional, could contribute to autism. Microglia are the brain's immune cells. They help shape developing neural connections by pruning unnecessary synapses. Microglia regulate inflammation and pruning activity through endocannabinoid receptors. 

In people with ASD, microglia function differently. They get overactivated, causing them to prune too many synapses. The endocannabinoid system influences microglia function, so tweaking it with compounds such as THC and CBD might rebalance microglia and relieve autism “symptoms.”

As the evidence suggests, some type of endocannabinoid deficiency or dysfunction contributes to certain autistic behaviors. One way to help treat problematic autistic behavior is to boost deficient endocannabinoids. 

Small amounts of cannabis might be just the way to do that.

Can microdosing cannabis help with autism?

Low-dose cannabis avoids the risk of impairment that is often associated with higher doses For people with autism, microdosing can help improve quality of life in many ways. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that lower doses may help relieve hyperactivity, disruptive behaviors, and social issues in autistic kids and adults. Microdosed cannabis may also improve social awareness and reduce self-injurious behaviors. 

The potential benefits also include:: 

  1. Anxiety relief
  2. Pain relief
  3. Elevated mood
  4. Reduced inflammation
  5. Improved sleep quality
  6. Improved appetite
  7. Decreased aggression and tantrums
  8. Decreased sensory sensitivity
  9. Increased ability to focus and concentrate
  10. Increased calm and tolerance to change
  11. Regulation of obsessive interests (microdosing cannabis may also help people struggling with OCD)
  12. Improved memory and enhanced cognitive performance without the "high" 
  13. Neurogenesis (aid in generating new neurons)

Given impressive anecdotal reports and the brain-balancing properties of microdosed THC and CBD, we are optimistic our delicious cannabis gummies and beverages may aid those living with autism. With only 5 mg of THC, our Relax Plus gummies are a great way to destress and reduce overstimulation.

What does the research say?

Official data is still limited on the effects of cannabis microdoses for autism spectrum disorder. Most studies feature higher doses of smoking or vaping methods, which makes it hard to confirm if edibles can help with ASD. 

Some studies suggest the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for treating certain autistic symptoms, although more research is needed to confirm these findings. Here’s what the research has shown so far:

  • A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that “CBD-rich cannabis extract was found to improve one of the diagnostic criteria for ASD (social interaction), as well as often co-existing features, and to have few serious adverse effects.” 
  • A 2022 study published in Translational Psychiatry showed that six months of treatment with CBD-rich cannabis in children with autism spectrum disorder led to significant improvements in social communication as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. 
  • Turkish researchers found that low doses of CBD and even lower amounts of THC seem to help manage behavioral problems associated with autism. According to parental reports, some children with autism spectrum disorder showed modest improvements in communication skills, cognition, and social interaction. 

These findings suggest that an appropriate medical cannabis treatment may help manage certain autism symptoms without significant adverse effects. While data is incomplete, we think that precise doses of cannabis compounds may offer neuroprotective benefits for people on the spectrum.

CBD taps into the endocannabinoid system to gently balance receptors throughout the body and brain. Balanced CBD doses may relieve common autism-related repetitive behaviors and social anxiety, and reduce inflammation, relieve chronic pain, and improve mood. 

For the ultimate relief, CBD is often paired with a dash of THC to produce the so-called “entourage effect.” Compounds from the cannabis plant can amplify one another's effects and create a synergistic therapeutic response greater than the sum of individual cannabinoids. A balanced microdose of THC and CBD soothes anxiety, lifts mood, softens potentially aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, and nourishes neurons by engaging the ECS.

We’ve combined the therapeutic effects of cannabidiol with a calibrated THC dose in our Sleep Plus Delta 9 gummies to leverage the entourage effect.

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Are there any risks of using cannabis for autism?

In general, low-dose cannabis presents little risk. Smaller amounts of THC and CBD may have therapeutic effects without causing adverse reactions, so it’s important to limit dosage. Higher THC concentrations or inconsistent dosing could potentially worsen autism symptoms like anxiety and obsessive behaviors. 

What are cannabis edibles?

Cannabis edibles are products that contain small, precise amounts of Delta 9 THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. You can get ours in the form of delicious gummies infused with real fruit or as cannabis-infused mixers. All of our products contain small amounts of THC and cannabidiol (CBD), which makes them one of the safest and most reliable methods of consuming cannabis. 

The 2–10 mg doses of Delta 9 in our edibles are well below the amount that typically produces psychoactive effects. While higher doses of Delta 9 can produce an intense high and cause unpleasant side effects, our carefully titrated doses take that out of the equation. 

If you’re new to microdosing edibles, our ultra-low dose Bliss gummies will satisfy your taste buds and elevate your spirits. One refreshing melon gummy contains just 5 mg of THC and 5 mg of CBD. 

"I seriously love this flavor, perfect dosage for a night out, or a night in."

Martin L

Are cannabis edibles legal?

According to the 2018 Farm Bill, Delta 9 THC is federally legal if it is derived from hemp and if the THC content in the product does not exceed 0.3% by dry weight. The Farm Bill removed hemp and hemp derivatives from the list of controlled substances and drew a clear legal distinction between hemp and marijuana

That makes our Delta 9 edibles legal at the federal level, including gummies with hemp-derived cannabidiol and our THC beverages. 

Despite federal legality, each state individually decides on hemp-derived products' legality within their state borders. See our guide to make sure your state is Delta 9-friendly

Cannabis edibles for autism FAQ

Currently, there’s no pharmacological cannabis treatment that can help “treat” or at least alleviate certain “symptoms” of autism. Emerging anecdotal and early scientific evidence suggests potential benefits of medical cannabis for managing autism symptoms like anxiety, aggression and repetitive behaviors. Small studies report CBD-rich cannabis extracts improved sociability, communication, cognition and reduced outbursts for some autistic children and adults. 

Though large-scale trials are still needed, these promising findings justify further research into cannabinoids as therapeutic alternatives for relieving disruptive behaviors and restricted interests associated with autism spectrum disorder.

Common medications such as antipsychotics, stimulants, and SSRIs can help alleviate core symptoms and issues interfering with daily functioning. Recently, cannabis compounds have shown preliminary potential for mitigating frequently co-occurring autism difficulties. Though optimal applications require more investigation, appropriately dosed CBD and THC may benefit those on the spectrum. More research is needed to identify safe, effective treatments that will improve quality of life.

CBD’s calming mental effects suggest it may buffer sensory sensitivity and emotional overload tied to autistic meltdowns. By reducing neuronal excitability, anxiety, and brain inflammation, supplemental CBD aims to raise tolerance to stimulation and inhibit fight-or-flight extremes. Though mostly anecdotal so far, reports describe fewer tantrums and more balanced responses to stimuli after integrating medical cannabis. Controlled studies of optimal CBD dosing and delivery methods are still needed to determine its effectiveness in preventing overstimulation.

CBD can temper excessive activity and rebalance disrupted signaling affecting focus, compulsions, and anxiety circuits throughout the brain. Activating CB1 cannabinoid receptors gently applies the brakes on runaway excitation while enhancing inhibitory and stabilizing activity. For structures impacted by autism, this means less sensory overload, rigid thinking, and repetitive behaviors. By calming neuronal chaos and inflammation, CBD can help calm the brain.

Oxytocin is a hormone often referred to as the "love hormone." It facilitates social bonding, sexual reproduction, childbirth, and lactation by promoting trust, empathy, and feelings of affection in mammals. CBD stimulates CB1 receptors to elevate oxytocin, mediating social bonding and emotional stability. 

As autism involves oxytocin deficiencies and ECS dysregulation, CBD’s indirect oxytocin-boosting and cannabinoid effects may ultimately enhance sociability and communication skills for some people with ASD. Though mechanisms remain under investigation, optimizing oxytocin levels appears to be one route CBD balances key circuitry deficiencies in autism spectrum disorder.

Here are the common side effects of cannabis:

  • Dry mouth: known as xerostomia, this side effect is often referred to as "cottonmouth." 
  • Dizziness: some users may experience a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Irritability: in some cases, cannabis use can lead to irritability or mood swings, particularly if the dosage or strain does not suit the individual.
  • Changes in appetite: cannabis is known to boost appetite, leading to increased hunger (often referred to as the "munchies").
  • Short-term memory impairment: cannabis can impair short-term memory, making it difficult for users to recall recent events or information while under the influence.
  • Impaired motor coordination: the psychoactive effects of cannabis can impact motor skills and coordination.

Cannabis can produce these side effects when you use too much of a cannabis product. There are certain factors to take into consideration—such as the specific cannabinoid, strain, and individual factors—but generally speaking, higher amounts of cannabis tend to produce more intense and potentially psychoactive effects. 

Different strains and products contain varying ratios of CBD and THC, which can produce different effects. Some individuals may respond better to CBD-rich strains, as CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid known for its potential to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and enhance mood. 

Others may benefit from products with balanced ratios or specific terpene profiles. This balance can provide a combination of potential therapeutic benefits from both cannabinoids, including anxiety reduction, improved sleep, and sensory sensitivity management while minimizing the risk of strong psychoactive effects.

It’s crucial to tailor the treatment to the individual's needs and monitor the response. The choice of cannabis strain for autism should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional who specializes in medical cannabis. 

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Resources

Silva EAD Junior, Medeiros WMB, Torro N, Sousa JMM, Almeida IBCM, Costa FBD, Pontes KM, Nunes ELG, Rosa MDD, Albuquerque KLGD. Cannabis and cannabinoid use in autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review. Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2022 Jun 13;44:e20200149. doi: 10.47626/2237-6089-2020-0149. PMID: 34043900; PMCID: PMC9887656.

Aran, A., Cassuto, H., Lubotzky, A., Wattad, N., & Hazan, E. (2018, October 31). Brief Report: Cannabidiol-Rich Cannabis in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Severe Behavioral Problems—A Retrospective Feasibility Study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3808-2

Ha, S., Sohn, J., Kim, N., Sim, H. J., & Cheon, A. (2015). Characteristics of Brains in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Structure, Function and Connectivity across the Lifespan. Experimental Neurobiology, 24(4), 273-284. https://doi.org/10.5607/en.2015.24.4.273

Zamberletti, E., Gabaglio, M., & Parolaro, D. (2017). The Endocannabinoid System and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Insights from Animal Models. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(9). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18091916

Aran, A., Eylon, M., Harel, M., Polianski, L., Nemirovski, A., Tepper, S., Schnapp, A., Cassuto, H., Wattad, N., & Tam, J. (2019, January 30). Lower circulating endocannabinoid levels in children with autism spectrum disorder. Molecular Autism. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-019-0256-6

Su, T., Yan, Y., Li, Q., Ye, J., & Pei, L. (2021, October 22). Endocannabinoid System Unlocks the Puzzle of Autism Treatment via Microglia. Frontiers in Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.734837

Silva EAD Junior, Medeiros WMB, Santos JPMD, Sousa JMM, Costa FBD, Pontes KM, Borges TC, Espínola C Neto Segundo, Andrade E Silva AH, Nunes ELG, Torro N, Rosa MDD, Albuquerque KLGD. Evaluation of the efficacy and safety of cannabidiol-rich cannabis extract in children with autism spectrum disorder: randomized, double-blind and controlled placebo clinical trial. Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2022 May 26;44. doi: 10.47626/2237-6089-2021-0396. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35617670.

Hacohen, M., Stolar, O. E., Berkovitch, M., Elkana, O., Kohn, E., Hazan, A., Heyman, E., Sobol, Y., Waissengreen, D., Gal, E., & Dinstein, I. (2022). Children and adolescents with ASD treated with CBD-rich cannabis exhibit significant improvements particularly in social symptoms: An open label study. Translational Psychiatry, 12(1), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-022-02104-8

Bilge, S., & Ekici, B. (2021, December 1). CBD-enriched cannabis for autism spectrum disorder: an experience of a single center in Turkey and reviews of the literature. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-021-00108-7

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