Israeli scientists are reporting they have made autistic mice more sociable and less obsessive by giving them cannabis.
The study could change the direction of efforts to use cannabis to treat autism, the researchers say. That’s because it suggests that the wrong compound from the plant is currently the focus in medical research. The studies are notable for showing THC is a more promising cannabinoid, medically, than is CBD.
Autistic patients who are informally self-prescribing, and trials currently underway, mostly use cannabidiol (CBD). But that cannabinoid is famous mostly for avoiding the high associated with THC.
An Israeli study in 2019 reported positive results for autistic patients treated with cannabis products that were mostly CBD.
The latest American study to examine CBD is taking place at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research of UC-San Diego. On Sunday, CNN ran an interview with a mother who said she is “getting my boy back” thanks to CBD.
‘THC Was The Most Effective’
However, Tel Aviv University researchers concluded that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which does get folks high — may be far more effective.
“Studies that are underway mostly don’t focus enough on the details of what it is in the cannabis that may be helping people,” researcher Shani Poleg told The Times of Israel. “In our study, we looked at the details, and came up with surprising and interesting findings.
“THC was more effective,” Poleg said. “The main difference was that THC treatment also improved social behavior, not only repetitive compulsive behavior.” CBD mostly helped the mice in the study just to deal with repetitive compulsive behavior.
She said that while THC results in a high, research suggested the amounts needed to deliver results are small. “Our study shows that when treating autism with medicinal cannabis oil there is no need for high contents of either CBD or THC.”
“We observed significant improvement in behavioral tests following treatments with cannabis oil containing small amounts of THC,” Poleg said. The researcher added she “observed no long-term effects in cognitive or emotional tests conducted a month and a half after the treatment began.”
THC Calms The Autistic Brain
“According to the prevailing theory, autism involves over-arousal of the brain, which causes compulsive behavior,” Poleg explained. “In the lab, in addition to the behavioral results, we saw a significant decrease in the concentration of the arousing neurotransmitter glutamate in the spinal fluid, which can explain the reduction in behavioral symptoms.”
Poleg stressed that the research, supervised by Prof. Daniel Offen and recently peer-reviewed and published in the journal Translational Psychology, is preliminary.
She also said the mutation causing autism in her mice, Shank3, is only responsible for a few human cases. “But we hope that this may have the effect of both encouraging further exploration of medical cannabis use for autism, and lead to a better type of cannabis being used,” she said.