Research into the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for autism is still very much in its infancy. Still, some recent studies have highlighted the potential of several cannabinoids to mitigate a range of symptoms. According to new research, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidivarin (CBDV) alters functional connectivity in a key brain region associated with autism. A single dose of the compound is sufficient to amend atypical brain activity.
How CBDV Affects Autism
Published in the journal Molecular Autism, the new study builds on previous research, indicating that CBDV acts upon excitatory and inhibitory neurons in a striatum brain region [i]. This is important as the striatum contains many key structures implicated in emotional processing, language and a range of other aspects of cognition that are disrupted in autism.
What’s more, prior studies have suggested that an imbalance between the activity of excitatory and inhibitory neurons can lead to atypical connectivity patterns within the striatum, resulting in typical symptoms of autism.
Therefore, the study authors gave 600 milligrams of CBDV to 13 adult males with autism and 15 men who do not have the condition. Brain scans carried out before and after the administration of the cannabinoid revealed how CBDV alters functional connectivity in the striatum of people with autism.
Before receiving the compound, autistic participants displayed several connectivity patterns that differed from those of non-autistic men. For example, the researchers note that “compared to the neurotypicals, autistic individuals had lower functional connectivity between the ventral striatum and frontal and pericentral regions.” This includes structures known to play a role in processing emotion, motor skills, and vision.
However, among those with autism, a single dose of CBDV “tended to increase this functional connectivity towards the neurotypical pattern.”
In contrast, connectivity linking striatal regions involved in speech and language tended to be higher than in non-autistic participants.
Once again, however, the researchers observed that “in autism, CBDV reduced hyperconnectivity to the neurotypical level.”
Does This Mean CBDV Cures Autism?
While these findings are highly promising, it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions about the impact of CBDV on autism. For one thing, this study only looked at brain connectivity patterns. Still, it didn’t go as far as to observe how these changes manifested in the behaviour and symptoms of autistic participants. Meaning we don’t know whether it actually helped them in a meaningful way.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the study only involved men. And, research has shown that the neural mechanisms underlying autism differ between the male and female brains. Therefore, whether or not CBDV would have the same effect on women with autism remains to be seen.
Regardless, this research is sure to heighten the rapidly growing interest in CBDV. It’s already being considered as a candidate for the treatment of epilepsy. Its ability to regulate the activity of excitatory and inhibitory neurons is highly relevant to preventing seizures.
[i]Molecular autism. 2021 Dec;12(1):1-4. – https://molecularautism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13229-021-00454-6