CBD and Autism
CBD and autism isn’t a new topic, but it’s a discussion that has been picking up steam recently. Like many health issues and topics that may be positively influenced by CBD, when it comes to autism, the data and evidence are fairly fresh and encouraging, but not yet exhaustive enough to be able to speak definitely about how it absolutely helps or doesn’t help.
With that in mind, we wanted to go through where the research is currently at right now, what many parents of autistic children think and are doing, and shed some light on what potential possibilities are out there. I’ll be up front and say off the bat that I don’t have a child with autism and so have no idea the trials and difficulties that both the parents and their children go through with this disorder.
But I know that many of the drugs out there commonly used to treat some of the behaviors and anxiety that often go along with autism are either lacking, or have the potential to produce some pretty serious side effects. So I was very happy to discover this topic, do some research, and see that there may some potential alternatives on the horizon that can be both effective and healthier than many of the options that are on the table currently.
What Is CBD?
Many of our articles go in depth about what CBD is, its chemical properties, and how it interacts with the body to produce many positive effects, so I won’t go too in depth about that here. For those of you who are newer to this topic, CBD is one of many chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. To be more precise, there are over 100 different types of these chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, found in hemp and marijuana plants. CBD and THC are the most well known and most extensively studied.
Basically, CBD interacts with the body’s central and peripheral nervous system through a network of receptors. It can bind with those receptors which then triggers different reactions throughout the body in an attempt to maintain balance or homeostasis.
If you are just getting into the CBD community, you will see that there are many claims about what CBD can and can’t do (mostly can). Many if not most of these require further scientific study and medical trials, but there is a fair amount of evidence that CBD can alleviate symptoms related to pain and inflammation, epilepsy, sleeplessness, stress, and anxiety.
For example, Harvard Health Publishing had this to say about CBD:
“The strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.
In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases it was able to stop them altogether. Recently the FDA approved the first-ever cannabis-derived medicine for these conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD. CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep."
Can CBD Treat Autism?
CBD cannot cure autism and neither can any other drug. That is to say, CBD can’t cure or remove the core symptoms of autism, including social communication challenges, sensory dysfunction, and restrictive, repetitive behaviors. This is largely due to the fact that the underlying causes of autism are not completely understood.
However, the associated or resulting symptoms of autism like anxiety, stress, aggression, and epileptic seizures are often the ones that are most hard on the individual and their family. The good news is that those are the exact symptoms that, according to the evidence and research we have so far, CBD may be most effective at combatting. In other words, CBD cannot cure autism, but might have the potential to mitigate some of its most difficult symptoms and effects.
CBD and Autism Research
CBD and autism research is just getting started. But the anecdotal evidence has been growing for some time. Many parents of children with autism claim that CBD is effective at alleviating behaviors related to their child’s outbursts and anxiety. They are encouraged by what research has been done, and by the fact that CBD has no known negative or harmful side effects, so they see little harm in giving it a try with their autistic child.
According to Dr. Adi Aran, a lead researcher on a recent CBD and autism study and Director of Pediatric Neurology at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, thousands of parents have already started treating their children with cannabis based on rumors of his study.
According to WebMD, for the study undertaken by Dr. Aran, 150 children with autism were put into three separate groups. One group received a placebo, another was treated with a whole-plant extract of marijuana, and the third received a pure blend of CBD and THC at a 20 to 1 ratio. The study found that the kids treated with either a whole plant cannabis extract or a pure combination of CBD and THC experienced marked improvement with their symptoms compared to the placebo group.
Another Israeli study about CBD and autism followed 188 autism spectrum disorder patients between 2015 and 2017 who were treated with cannabis oil containing 30% CBD and 1.5% THC. After six months of treatment, the patients still actively participating in the study self reported the following:
“Of the 60.0% (93) of the test subjects that were assessed; 28 patients (30.1%) reported a significant improvement, 50 (53.7%) moderate, 6 (6.4%) slight and 8 (8.6%) had no change in their condition. Twenty-three patients (25.2%) experienced at least one side effect; the most common was restlessness (6.6%). Cannabis in ASD patients appears to be well tolerated, safe and effective option to relieve symptoms associated with ASD.”
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What’s Next for CBD and Autism Research
Next up for CBD and autism research is, you guessed it, more research. More studies, more learning about how autism itself works, more looking into how CBD may be effective at combatting its related symptoms.
AmyLou Fawell, cofounder and president of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (or MAMMA) USA is dedicated to making CBD and cannabis available to children diagnosed with autism. Here is what she had to say:
“The medical community needs better options when it comes to treating autism. Our children are routinely prescribed heavy duty pharmaceuticals (for example anti-psychotics or benzodiazepines) that come with potentially devastating side effects. Our families would prefer something like medical cannabis, which has an incredible safety record. Between emerging research and anecdotal evidence, it is clear that cannabis can improve many symptoms of autism, from core symptoms to maladaptive behaviors. Even tough cases and older kids are finding relief with the addition of cannabis to their treatment plan.”
The good news is that the FDA approval of Epidiolex last year has served as a springboard to initiate more studies in the US to further explore whether or not CBD can treat autism and its associated symptoms. Because CBD has been shown to successfully treat symptoms of epilepsy, and because it many ways autism and epilepsy go hand in hand, there is a lot of hope for CBD and autism.
We are largely still at the beginning of the journey when it comes to treating autism with CBD, however the initial research looks promising. As more studies look into CBD and autism, our hope, and the hope of many parents of autistic children, is that this substance may become a viable alternative to existing treatment.
In the meantime, although we do not advocate stopping use of any drugs your child’s doctor has prescribed, it may be encouraging to know that many parents are giving CBD a try. Again, there are no known negative side effects, so many people are just seeing if it improves symptoms for their child. Always consult your doctor if you are thinking about giving CBD to your child.
We’re on the cusp of something great with CBD treatment for a whole host of disorders and illnesses. We’ll definitely write more on this topic as the research unfolds.