A Guide to Cannabis and CBD for Treating Autism Spectrum Disorder
Learn the research and use of Cannabis and CBD for Treating Autism Spectrum disorder in both adults and children.
What is Autism?
Autism treatment is challenging to discuss because the way it presents can look vastly different from person to person. This is one of the reasons the definition changed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The DSM defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as:
Persistent problems in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts. This includes; problems associated with social-emotional reciprocity, nonverbal communication behaviours used for social interaction, as well as developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships.
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities, as expressed by at least two of the following:
- Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech.
- Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behaviour.
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus.
- Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (ex. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement)
Cannabis and Epilepsy
Autism and epilepsy appear to have a connection. Those diagnosed with ASD seem to be more likely to have epilepsy or suffer from seizures (source). As a result, individuals diagnosed with both ASD and epilepsy are often treated with CBD for their seizures. This treatment tends to also lead to an improvement in the symptoms associated with ASD. So, research on CBD continues to expand and provides continued support for its use in treating numerous conditions and ailments.
Read more about Treating Epilepsy with Cannabis.
Cannabis and Autism: Treating Autism with Cannabis
As a result of the link between Autism and Epilepsy, anecdotal evidence suggests cannabis is an effective treatment for behaviours linked with Autism.
Many children with Autism who also experienced epileptic seizures were able to get CBD for their seizures. With the treatment, they also experienced a decrease in other behaviours associated with Autism like headbanging, flapping hands, and violent outbursts (source).
An article in CBC talks about another of these cases. A young girl (18 years old) with Autism was struggling with violent outbursts but because she didn’t experience seizures her mother had a significantly more challenging time getting CBD. Though her mother reports seeing the positive effects of the cannabis treatment as soon as four hours after the first dose. Her violent episodes nearly completely disappeared after starting cannabis treatment (source).
At this point, there is mostly anecdotal evidence to support the use of CBD for Autism; but Dr. Ginspoon, a professor of Psychiatry, argues this evidence should be taken seriously by doctors and medical researchers. Clinical research has not been able to keep up with anecdotal evidence as a result of the legalization of cannabis, but that does not mean we should ignore the evidence we have.
For more information on this topic check out Dr. Ginspoon’s article here.
Cannabis, Autism and Clinical Trials
One of the first clinical trials of CBD and Autism was in Israel. They found that following treatment:
- Behavioural 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
- Disruptive behaviours improved by 29%
This was a preliminary study with promising results and they plan to continue with more rigorous clinical trials (source).
As of spring 2018, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine are preparing for the first trials in the US. The goal of the study is to determine the safety and effectiveness of CBD treatment for children with Autism (source). And another similar trial is currently underway in New York City (source).
There does not appear to be any clinical trials in Canada as of yet. But some research is being done on the endocannabinoid system in relation to Autism and other neurological disorders to determine the effectiveness of endocannabinoid oriented drug treatment. Of course, CBD would fit into the category of endocannabinoid drug treatment (source).
Cannabis for Children Under 19
When talking about Autism Spectrum Disorder we are often talking about parents struggling with their children’s behaviours. Though as we see cannabis becoming legal across the world it is only legal for those that are the age of majority, or if the treatment has been FDA approved for medical use (as is the case with epilepsy). As we’ve seen from the stories above, this leaves some parents struggling to get the treatment their children need.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario advises doctors to “not prescribe marijuana to patients under the age of 25 unless all other conventional therapeutic options have been attempted and have failed to alleviate the patient’s symptoms.” Despite this, many doctors continue to prescribe anyway and see positive results.
Dr. Michael Verbora, medical director at Canabo Medical Clinic in Surrey, BC, has seen “tremendous” success with cannabis therapy. He currently has 10 pediatric patients with Autism who use this treatment with his youngest being seven years old.
As the research catches up we will see more and more doctors support the use of CBD for children in controlled situations.
Some worry about the side effects and possible long-term effects of this treatment. This is a real concern considering the lack of clinical trials. Though Dr. Verbora says, “the worst side effects I’m seeing are a little bit of sedation, but it’s typically nowhere near the traditional pharmaceuticals these same patients would use for their behaviours anyway.” So, CBD is not the first treatment attempt, but if the young person is resistant to other treatments doctors like Dr. Verbora choose to use CBD (source). In other words, many other doctors support his view and many turn to cannabis when conventional treatment methods fail.
CBD Consumption for Children
Of course, when talking about treating children with CBD we are not talking about having children smoking cannabis. But there are many different ways of consuming CBD other than smoking. These include tinctures that can be dropped underneath a person’s tongue, other products that can be added to your favourite drinks or favourite meals like cooking oil, coconut oil or isolates, and there are also other edible CBD options like gummies, cookies, etc.
Check out some of these links to see these types of products and learn more about the different ways to add CBD into your treatment plan:
You can also make your own edibles at home with CBD Coconut Oil. Works great at a substitute for butter in baking or add it to many of your favourite meals. Making your own edibles at home not only allows you to easily measure your own dose but also allows you to control how much sugar your children are consuming.
Also for Autistic children who may have sensory challenges when it comes to food, you can use Miss Envy’s CBD Coconut oil or CBD isolate to get their dose into something they are more likely to eat.
Check out our cannabis recipes section on our website for amazing recipe ideas that are easy to make.
Cannabis and Autism Success Stories
As we discussed above there are many parents, and doctors, choosing to use CBD as a treatment for ASD and having great success. Read some of these stories before deciding what is right for you or your child.
Cannabis Strains for Autism (for Adults)
CBD with lower levels of THC appears to be the most effective treatment for epilepsy and behaviours associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Both Green Camp and Cannabis.net have suggestions for the most effective strains of cannabis for treatment.
Cannabis and CBD can be an effective method for treating symptoms associated with Autism. Though we recommend always talking to a doctor before self-medicating or medicating your child with cannabis or CBD products.
Check out our shop for many CBD options today! Also, if you’re using CBD to manage symptoms of autism, we want to hear from you! Leave a comment about your experience and how you use cannabis for treating epilepsy, tag us on social media, or send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.