According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the prevalence of ASD has nearly tripled since 2000, from 0.67 percent of 8-year-olds to 1.85 percent. Some experts believe this is due to better reporting and screening standards; in other words, that we’re finding more instances of autism because we’re looking harder and better.
Autism remains an often misunderstood and stigmatized condition, and its definition is not always easy to pin down. Its traits exist along a spectrum, and it manifests differently in different people. It’s not always debilitating—in fact, many people are delighted by the way their brain works and resent any notion of being “cured.” With that said, individuals with autism continue to struggle with social anxiety. As the research and innovation in this space continue to grow, psychedelic medicines are offering new potentials for treatment. This month, Nova Mentis Life Science Corp announced the launch of an observational study on the microbiome and genetics of patients with ASD and Fragile X syndrome. Part of the research is focused on serotonin signaling, the chemical in the brain most associated with psychedelic effects. That’s because the Vancouver-based psychedelics company plans to test psilocybin to illuminate “the neural underpinnings of social dysfunctions” in ASD, the company said in a press release. A study of the effects of psychedelics on ASD conducted by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, explored using MDMA to treat social anxiety in autistic adults. It was a small trial with just 12 participants (four receiving placebo) but it “demonstrated rapid and durable improvement in social anxiety symptoms,” according to results published in Psychopharmacology in 2018. “The results had a large effect size, which means that it’s a strong signal that we might be able to alleviate the social anxiety symptoms that they were suffering from,” Berra Yazar-Klosinski, one of the study authors, told Filter. “We had a six-month follow up and many of the participants had completely transformed lives after the study. These were folks that never left their parents’ home. And after the study, they moved out, and they started school, and they joined a soccer team. All these things that really required a lot of social interaction, they were completely fine.”