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December 07, 2020 3 min read

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complicated neurodevelopmental condition that usually shows up in early childhood. Patients experience a delay in language, social, or cognitive skills, but the severity and range of symptoms vary. Some people with ASD function independently, while others need support. 

Autism cases occur across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. The CDC reports thatone out of 54 children has been diagnosed with autism. However, the cause of autism is not fully understood, and few medications are available for treatment.

Each person with autism is unique, and the most effective treatment and support plan will vary. Educational programs, psychological support, and special diets work for many. Recently, CBD oil has gained recognition as an alternative method of treatment. 

We'll take a look at the emerging research and clinical evidence investigating CBD as a treatment to relieve the symptoms of Autism.

Autism and the Endocannabinoid System

CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). A recent discovery named after the cannabis plant, theactivation by cannabis alerted researchers to the system. Thanks to the high level of interaction between the ECS and the entourage of molecules in the hemp and cannabis plants, researchers found the receptors in the brain and later throughout the body. 

ECS receptors are in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. It helps our body's systems maintain the balance we need to stay healthy andmodulates the brain, hormonal, and immune tissues.

Researchers are investigatingconnections between the endocannabinoid system and ASD. In a 2019 study, three of the main endocannabinoids found in the human body were foundin lower levels in autism patients than in a control group.

Symptoms of ECS deficiency or imbalances are conditions often present in subsets of patients diagnosed with ASD.Anxiety, seizures, cognitive challenges, and sleep disturbances are all associated with both ASD and ECS deficiency.

CBD for Symptoms and Comorbidities of Autism

In addition to the symptoms of ASD, some patients also experience eating disorders, sleeping difficulties, autoimmune diseases, anxiety, or neuroinflammation. CBD displaysanxiety-relieving, sleep-aiding, antipsychotic,anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties that can ease these symptoms in several studies.

In an animal-model study,CBD improved autistic-like social interaction deficits.

In a double-blind study looking at CBD’s effect on the adult brain, researchers compared CBD oil’s effect on ASD patients and a control group. 

CBD altered two brain regions consistently associated with autism, but only in the ASD patients.

Autism and Epilepsy

Researchers suspect alink between ASD and epilepsy since people with autism are more likely to have epilepsy, and epilepsy patients are more likely to have autism. About twenty percent of each group have both conditions.

The first FDA-approved prescription medication made from CBD,Epidiolex, effectively controls some of the hardest to manage types of epileptic seizures. In the brain, both ASD and epilepsy involve the same synaptic pathways. Like ASD, epilepsy has been found to correlate with imbalances in the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Observational Studies

NYU andUCSD Medical Schools are currently running studies on CBD as a treatment for children with autism.

A 2018 study published in theJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders involving 60 ASD patients found CBD-rich cannabis to measurablyreduce behavioral outbreaks in 61 percent. Thirty-three percent were able to reduce or stop taking their medication. Researchers hypothesize the effects are due to CBD’s anti-anxiety and antipsychotic properties combined with a balancing effect on the endocannabinoid system.

Atwo-year observational study with 188 children with autism used CBD-rich cannabis oil containing 30 percent CBD and 1.5 to three percent THC.

After Six Months, Caregivers Reported:

  • Improvement in Restlessness -- 90% 
  • Reduction of Rage Attacks -- 89%
  • Less Anxiety -- 88%
  • Less Agitation -- 84%
  • Better Sleep -- 59%

A Continuing Investigation with Promise

Research into CBD’s benefits, and the potential of its applications for the treatment of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, are only beginning. 

Initial research and observational studies show exciting results. The remarkable plant molecules inorganic CBD oil may be useful to improve autistic patients’ and their caregivers’ lives. With relatively few side-effects and multiple potential benefits, research institutions are willing to invest in more in-depth investigations and larger observational studies.

As the research continues to accumulate, each individual should consider CBD in the context of their symptoms and other medications. CBD can interact with some medications and should only be combined under the supervision of a qualified physician. 


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