The Endocannabinoid System and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Diagram Credit: Nature Reviews Cancer via Medical Jane

Diagram Credit: Nature Reviews Cancer via Medical Jane

The endocannabinoid system plays an extremely important role in human health, and there is mounting evidence explaining how important this system is in the progression of severe autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The phytocannabinoids found in marijuana could become a significant player in the treatment of autsim. When the gene coding of a group of neuronal cells called neuroligins is altered, autism and other cognitive diseases are produced. Specifically, ASD is associated with mutations in neurolgin-3 (NL3), the neuroligin which is required for the tonic secretion of certain endocannabinoids. Some researches believe it is the dysregulation in endocannabinoid signaling that contributes to the pathophysiology of autism.

The most commonly known genetic cause of autism and other neuropsychiatric problems is the loss in fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), resulting in fragile X syndrome (FXS). The endocannabinoid system is implicated in all aspects of FXS, and could modulate functions that regulate these disorders, including "synaptic plasticity, cognitive performance, anxiety, nociception, and seizure susceptibility." In preclinical research, FXS models in rodents have indicated CB1 and CB2 as pharmacological targets that may be able to reduce cognitive deficits and anxiety. CB2 is especially important when it comes to ASD because of the inflammatory nature of the condition. ASD is associated with elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine levels, and cannabinoids like CB2 have the ability inhibit cytokine production.

This information is brought to you by Medical Jane and approved by our Chief Medical officer. Read more about the endocannabinoid system and the role cannabis could play in the treatment of ASD here.