One in 59 people born today will have some form of autism, a disorder that affects parts of the brain that impact behavior and social interactions. Autism is a spectrum disorder and can vary from mild to severe. Treatment typically tends to include different types of therapies as well as medications that can have harsh side-effects such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
But CBD for autism could soon be used to help. There are dozens of ongoing studies being done around the world that are looking at the positive effects of CBD, the non-psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant, for autistic children.
People are using CBD for many types of ailments, from epilepsy to depression to inflammation to anxiety. CBD has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and anti-nausea properties among many others. The Food and Drug Administration has already approved a CBD medication for epilepsy and scientists believe it may also lessen symptoms of autism too.
CBD for Autism at a Glance
- Claim: CBD may relieve the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder
- What the Research Shows: So far, research and clinical trials strongly indicate that CBD may improve behavioral symptoms in autistic children. Larger clinical trials are currently ongoing to confirm safety and determine dosage.
- All the Facts: There is strong anecdotal evidence from parents that CBD helps their autistic children and early studies are promising. However, so far most research has been done in small clinical trials and larger clinical trials are necessary to assess efficacy and dosage safety. We are eagerly awaiting the results of several ongoing clinical trials.
According to the autism society, autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It typically appears during early childhood. Autism is a “spectrum condition” and behaviors that affect an individual can vary immensely from one person to another and range from mild to severe.
People suffering from autism could experience delayed learning of language, difficulty making eye contact or having a conversation, difficulty with executive functioning, narrow and intense interests, poor motor skills, and sensory sensitivities. Someone on the autism spectrum might have many of these traits as well as many others besides these.
Doctors don’t yet know what exactly causes autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis and access to supports improve quality of life significantly. The Centers for Disease Control found that autism occurs in 1 in every 59 births in the U.S., twice as much as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125.
There is no cure for autism, but some treatments can lessen symptoms. Some may try different types of therapies to improve speech and behavior and sometimes medications help manage a medical condition or behaviors related to autism.
How CBD can be used for autism?
According to BAS Research, a cannabis research and manufacturing company, there are similarities in brain chemistry between epilepsy and autism. Epilepsy is a brain disorder marked by recurring seizures which affects one-third to one-fifth of people who also have autism. They say the autism-epilepsy overlap seems most common in people who also have an intellectual disability.
The Food and Drug Administration approved a cannabis-based CBD medication called Epidiolex in 2018 to be used for the treatment of epilepsy. According to a study published in the journal Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, CBD is anxiolytic (reduces anxiety), anti-inflammatory, antiemetic (anti-nausea) and antipsychotic, among others.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder exhibit hyperactivity, self-injury, aggressiveness, restlessness, anxiety and sleep disorders and tend to be treated by common psychotropic medications such as antipsychotics, serotonin inhibitors, stimulants or anxiolytics. CBD for autism could help lessen these behavioral symptoms.
CBD is very effective in our bodies due to the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is known to regulate physiological functions in mammals in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in peripheral organs. CBD has been shown to play a role in the modulation of behavior, according to research. CBD compounds attach to endocannabinoid receptors in our bodies which regulate cell function in many tissue types in the brain, skin, and other organs.
Researchers in Israel have been at the forefront of clinical trials of CBD for autism. A recent study concluded that, based on parents’ reports of a CBD trial on their autistic children, cannabidiol may be effective in improving autism spectrum disorder symptoms.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, found that of the 53 autistic children studied in a clinical trial of CBD for autism, 67% saw improvement in self-injury and rage attacks, 68% improved hyperactivity symptoms, 71% saw sleep problems improve, and anxiety improved in 47% of the children.
Building on the strong positive evidence that supports the use of CBD for autism, the researchers said a larger trial is needed to further study efficacy and dosage safety.
According to the study published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, many studies are being done worldwide on cannabidiol use in autism spectrum disorder.
One such study on CBD for autism, published in the journal Neurology, was so promising that the researchers decided to create a larger clinical trial for further research, which is ongoing currently. The retrospective study assessed safety, tolerability and efficacy of CBD as adjuvant therapy for behavioral problems in children with autism.
Sixty children with autism were treated with an oral CBD and THC (the psychoactive compound of marijuana that causes the “high”) mix at a ratio of 20 to one. Results showed behavioral outbreaks were much improved or very much improved in 61% of patients. Anxiety and communication problems were much or very much improved in 39% and 47% respectively and disruptive behaviors improved by 29%. One other positive finding of the study was that parents reported better Autism Parenting Stress Index scores, improving by 33%.
In New York, Montefiore Medical Center and NYU Langone are conducting a phase 2, 12-week double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on 100 children with autism to assess the efficacy of CBD. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Israel are also conducting CBD trials on autistic children. After this trial completes in 2021, the scientific community may have strong scientific evidence that CBD for autism can perhaps become a treatment to manage a variety of symptoms.
“I’ve spoken to parents who swear that this is effective,” Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “But it needs to undergo scientific research.”
Concerns related to using CBD for autism
CBD is usually well-tolerated by the human body. It doesn’t get you “high” like THC, another component found in cannabis that has psychoactive properties and can induce anxiety.
The more common side-effects of CBD are minor, like diarrhea, changes in appetite, and fatigue. CBD can also interact with other medications, which is a top concern for people already on medication for autism. The most frequent adverse effects during the aforementioned clinical trials were somnolence and decreased appetite. In addition, those using CBD may be at risk of inhibition of hepatic drug metabolism, dry mouth, lightheadedness, adverse neurological effects, and low blood pressure.
Another concern of CBD is that it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, hence dosage may not be as accurate as stated in the labeling. There have been cases of CBD oil containing THC, which would give an intoxicating effect, instead of the non-psychotropic effect of CBD. Thus, it’s important to ensure that your CBD oil comes from a reputable source.
Give that one in 59 people born in America today will exhibit some form of autism, it’s important that clinical trials are done to not only confirm the efficacy of CBD for autism but also find an appropriate dosage and delivery mechanism. So far clinical trials on CBD for autism are immensely promising and perhaps in a few years, CBD for autism may be approved by the government as a treatment for autism. With typically mild side-effects, CBD could help millions of people live healthier lives.