This review (2022) explores the evidence that psychedelics may ameliorate symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) particularly reduced social behaviour and co-occurring anxiety and depression. The dysregulated neurobiological systems in ASD are discussed as well as research from the 1960s and 70s which assessed the use of psychedelics in the treatment of children with ASD.
“Recent clinical and preclinical evidence points towards empathogenic and prosocial effects elicited by psychedelic compounds, notably the serotonin 5-HT2A agonists lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and their derivatives. These findings suggest a therapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds for some of the behavioural traits associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by atypical social behaviour. In this review, we highlight evidence suggesting that psychedelics may potentially ameliorate some of the behavioural atypicalities of ASD, including reduced social behaviour and highly co-occurring anxiety and depression. Next, we discuss dysregulated neurobiological systems in ASD and how they may underlie or potentially limit the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. These phenomena include 1) synaptic function, 2) serotonergic signalling, 3) prefrontal cortex activity, and 4) thalamocortical signalling. Lastly, we discuss clinical studies from the 1960s and 70s that assessed the use of psychedelics in the treatment of children with ASD. We highlight the positive behavioural outcomes of these studies, including enhanced mood and social behaviour, as well as the adverse effects of these trials, including increases in aggressive behaviour and dissociative and psychotic states. Despite preliminary evidence, further studies are needed to determine whether the benefits of psychedelic treatment in ASD outweigh the risks associated with the use of these compounds in this population and if the 5-HT2A receptor may represent a target for social-behavioural disorders.”
Authors: Athanasios Markopoulos, Antonio Inserra, Danilo De Gregorio & Gabriella Gobbi
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Frontiers in Pharmacology
January 27, 2022