Tuesday, October 06, 2009

This a really bad idea ...

A woman decides to try treating her son's autism with cannabis..

Not surprisingly, since she wrote an article about it, she feels he's doing well.

This is such a bad idea -- though I can understand why a parent might be so desperate they might try it.

Let me name the reasons why you shouldn't consider following along ...
  1. Cannabis is not a placebo. Cannabis is not a "safe" but worthless herbal remedy. Cannabis is big-time pharmacologically active stuff. It has tons of effects. Maybe some of those efffects will help some brains; there's some thought that it accelerates neuronal connection death -- and that could even be therapeutic. Probably other effects will hurt other brains. Maybe it will both hurt and help. Maybe it will help for a while, then really hurt. Nobody knows.
  2. Anyone remember thalidomide? It was supposed to be great for morning sickness, which is why it was given to my Canadian mother. In the US though the FDA didn't approve it. (My mother didn't take it, so I have all my limbs.) I don't think the FDA approves of treating neuroconnectopathies with cannabis.
  3. People running an experiment are famously fabulously lousy judges of how well it works -- even when they're not deeply invested in declaring success.
  4. The placebo effect on aggression can be enormous. Even if the Cannabis was marginally helpful, or somewhat harmful, we should expect a very large placebo effect in this kind of experiment.
  5. Any parent with judgment this bad (or desperation this great) is going to be a very poor scientist. So even if we disregard the experimental design (open) and placebo effect, we should still be very skeptical of this report.
  6. Heck, let's try Scotch. LSD. Heroin. Maybe all three, in combinations. On alternate days. When you're going to experiment on this scale, there are no limits.
Ok, but even if running this radical experiment on your child is a very bad idea, could cannabis play some useful role someday in treating some autism spectrum disorders? Well, in 2004 I wrote of the endocannabinoids ...
[a] .... book I've quite appreciated, written by an adult who'd suffered from severe ADHD/Explosive disorder, emphasized how severe his withdrawal syndrome was from marijuana, and provided anectdotal evidence that for children with ADHD marijuana is a particularly disruptive drug.

Given all of the above, it does not seem to be a great leap to a speculative relationship: Buspirone and endocannabinoids and "Explosive Disorder"/ADHD.

An interesting axis to explore. So I fired up scholar.google.com and entered the search terms: endocannabinoid buspirone. Intriguingly that led to the article cited here, a mouse study [found that] Endocannabinoid CB1 disruption did produce a peculiar mouse behavior -- anxiety/withdrawal in unfamiliar settings, aggression/activity in familiar settings. Hmmm. That sounds interesting.

It will be very interesting over the next few years to see how the Buspar, endocannabinoid, CB1, ADHD, PDD, explosive child, EBD, CCBD (complex cognitive behavioral disorder) axis evolves. Look for some interesting work on children with EBD using PET scans and Buspar. We are probably five to ten years from well understood therapies however -- even if this relationship holds up...
Yes, there are lots of reason to be curious about the endocannabinoids -- in animal studies.

Just don't do this on your kids.

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