CBD as Treatment for Autism

UPDATED ON JANUARY 25TH, 2019

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication, repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior, interests, or activities and often intellectual disabilities. Sleep disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and epilepsy often times accompany ASD. Currently, there is no effective treatment for the core symptoms of ASD, but there is increasing interest in the use of cannabinoids, specifically CBD as a part of a treatment for the core symptoms and accompanying disorders.

Current Treatments for ASD

There are many different forms of treatment that are available for ASD. The different types of treatment are:

  • behavior and communication
  • dietary
  • medication
  • complementary and alternative medicine

Behavior and communication approaches focus on creating structure, direction, and organization for the child. Family participation is also included in this type of treatment.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is often used in schools and treatment clinics. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors with the child. Other subcategories of behavior and communication-based approaches include developmental, individual differences, relationship-based approach, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, speech therapy, and picture exchange communication. 

A dietary approach is based on the idea that changing the dietary habits may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with ASD. Most often times this includes removing certain types of foods from a child’s diet, and using vitamin and mineral supplements. The idea behind this is possible food allergies or lack of vitamins and minerals may be the cause of symptoms associated with ASD. Some parents feel this type of approach changes the way their child acts and feels.

There is no cure for ASD but there are medications to help manage some of the symptoms that are commonly experienced. The most common symptoms ASD patients take medication for are managing high energy levels, inability to focus, depression, or seizures. For those who don’t like the idea of dealing with the side effects associated with these medications, there are also alternative treatments. These include special diets, chelation (removing heavy metals from the body), biologicals (secretion), or body-based symptoms (deep pressure). All of which are controversial and should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

CBD as a Treatment for ASD

Nature, a highly respected research journal, recently posted a study that focused on discovering the epidemiology of ASD in patients who were receiving medical cannabis as part of their treatment. These patients received cannabis oil containing 30% CBD and 1.5% THC for 6 months. The results found 30.1% of the patients reported significant improvement, 53.7% patients reported moderate, 6.4% slight improvement, and 8.6% had no change in their condition. 25.2% patients experienced restlessness during the treatment. Overall, the results provided evidence to show cannabis is well tolerated, safe and effective in relieving symptoms associated with ASD.

The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders posted a study back in 2018 that also focused on the use of cannabis as a treatment in ASD. The focus with this study was tolerability and efficacy of cannabidiol-rich cannabis in 60 children with ASD. All of the patients in this study also had severe behavioral problems. The only adverse effects patients experienced were sleep disturbances (14%), irritability (9%), and loss of appetite (9%). Following the treatment, it was reported that behavioral outbreaks had improved in 61% of the patients. This study also gives headway in further research on the use of CBD to help children with ASD.