Autism is often the result of too little inhibition in the brain, which leads to heightened sensitivity to stimuli (such as lights, sounds, touch, and smells) and abnormal social behavior. Epilepsy can also result from too little brain inhibition, and it’s common for individuals on the severe end of the autism spectrum to also have epilepsy. Scientists then may study both epilepsy and autism that are caused by the same DNA mutation.
Soon after the exciting clinical data demonstrating CBD’s effectiveness at reducing seizures in children with drug-resistant epilepsy, University of Washington scientists published a report demonstrating CBD’s effectiveness in a mouse model of epilepsy and autism.
As described above, one of the limitations of the clinical study of CBD in patients with Dravet syndrome is that, for ethical reasons, patients remained on their anti-epileptic medications; CBD was used as an add-on therapy, leading skeptics to posit that CBD’s anti-epileptic effects were in fact mediated by an interaction between CBD and other medications. To assess if CBD had anti-epileptic effects on its own in drug-resistant epilepsy, scientists tested CBD’s effects in mice with the same genetic mutation as humans with Dravet syndrome.
CBD increased the mice’s preference for spending time interacting with other mice and reduced the number of social anxiety-like behaviors.
In these epileptic mice, scientists confirmed that CBD, by itself, was sufficient to reduce seizures. Further, it was revealed that CBD rescues deficits in brain inhibition by blocking the activity of a brain receptor called GPR55. Now that CBD’s anti-epileptic effects are better understood in the brain and have been observed in humans and rodents, there’s an especially compelling case for clinical use of CBD in treating drug-resistant epilepsies.
But it doesn’t end there.
In addition to epilepsy, children with Dravet syndrome and other epileptic disorders often have autism. Unfortunately, the phase III clinical trial of CBD’s efficacy on seizures wasn’t able to simultaneously address autism-like social deficits in these individuals. However, University of Washington scientists looked at CBD’s impact on autistic-like social deficits, and they revealed that CBD normalizes social behavior in mice. CBD increased the mice’s preference for spending time interacting with other mice and reduced the number of social anxiety-like behaviors. Critically, this improvement occurred even after the mice had undergone numerous seizures, which highlights its medicinal potential at any age.