With the steady rise in cases of autism and the apparent lack of conclusive treatment, there has been gravitation towards alternative forms of treatment. Cannabidiol, aka CBD, is a natural bioactive compound that has shown potential in the treatment of various ailments. Research has shown that CBD could help in the treatment of seizures, anxiety, mood disorders, muscle spasticity, and pain among others. Can CBD really help with autism?
The effects of autism tend to be very varied and far-reaching and may range from minor limitations to debilitating conditions. It has been shown that early intervention leads to better outcomes and improves the quality of life and as such the reprieve that CBD brings to the autism community is more than welcome. In this article, we will review the use of CBD especially in the form of CBD oil to treat autism. Enjoy the read!
CBD Oil for Autism
CBD oil is a form of CBD that has increasingly gained popularity for the treatment of cancer, arthritis, use in palliative and the management of other chronic conditions. In recent times, it has found a place in the treatment of autism due to its effect on epileptic seizures, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, pain, and inflammation among others.
Because it is well tolerated and more affordable than many prescription drugs, CBD oil offers an effective alternative to those living with autism. Unlike in the past when it was hard to come by, CBD oil is now quite commonly found in marijuana/cannabis dispensaries as it has gained a great following in the use for medicinal purposes. Though studies are still being carried out to determine the exact effects of CBD oil on autism, enough has been realized to show significant improvement in symptoms and therefore the quality of life in some people with autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
ASD describes a number of neurodevelopmental conditions. According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a guide published by the American Psychiatric Association, there are 5 sub-types.
ASD is more often diagnosed in boys than in girls and has been on an upward increasing trend in the last 40 years. Symptoms often present early, which is between 12 and 24 months, although they can emerge earlier or later in life.
The DSM-5 classifies ASD symptoms into two categories:
- Problems with communication and social interactions.
This may include difficulties with:
- Emotional-social reciprocity. An example could be trouble sharing interests or emotions and maintaining “back-and-forth” conversations.
- Nonverbal communication is important to social interaction. An example could be trouble understanding communication cues such as eye contact or body language.
- Developing and maintaining relationships. An example of this is difficulty making friends.
- Repetitive or restricted behavior patterns or activities.
- Having a particularly intense need to adhere to very specific routines
- Exhibiting an increased sensitivity to specific sensory stimuli
- having fixated interests
A person is diagnosed with autism if they display all three symptoms in the first category and any two in the second.
CBD has in the recent past been found to be beneficial in the treatment and management of some autism symptoms.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the numerous compounds found in the cannabis plant. It has a myriad of benefits for people with autism as we will later discuss. CBD oil is one form of CBD and it comprises oils infused with CBD. CBD oils are quite easy to dose and their effects take between 60 to 90 minutes to kick in.
How Does CBD Oil Work in the Treatment of Autism?
The body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS) plays a major role in regulating its internal processes such as immune response, metabolism, sleep, and mood. Some early research has shown that autism is sometimes caused by imbalances in the ECS.
In treating autism, CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to stabilize the imbalances that may be causing autistic symptoms.
The ECS system is made up of three parts:
- Endocannabinoids: Which are molecules made by the body. These molecules are similar to cannabinoids such as CBD.
- Receptors: These are the parts of the ECS that endocannabinoids, as well as cannabinoids, bind to. They occur throughout the body and are mainly of two types: CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors occur mainly in the central nervous system, while the CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system.
- Enzymes: These break down the endocannabinoids after they have done their work.
THC interacts with the CB1 receptors that are primarily located in the central nervous system, therefore, stimulating a range of effects. This usually also causes psychoactive effects associated with the marijuana high.
CBD interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors but has a weak affinity for each. It also works through other pathways such as the serotonin system and ion channels (TRPV). In addition, studies have shown that CBD prevents cannabinoids from being broken down, resulting in them having greater performance and more marked effects on the body.
Some of the positive effects of CBD oil on autism are:
CBD Suppresses Epileptic Seizures
A positive correlation has been found between the use of CBD oil and autism. As about 30 percent of patients with autism suffer from seizures especially in childhood, the ability of CBD oil to suppress epileptic seizures is highly beneficial. The FDA has taken positive steps in this direction by approving Epidiolex for seizure management. In the same vein, children with autism have experienced a significant reduction in seizures while using CBD oil.
CBD Suppresses Aggression
CBD oil offers several benefits for behavioral symptoms in autistic patients. Generally, CBD has calming effects on both the mind and body. Children on the autism spectrum tend to have bouts of aggression, behavioral issues, and self-injurious behavior from time to time. Some of these children display symptoms of hyperactivity and different levels of aggression. With the use of CBD oil, some patients have displayed reduced aggressive behavior and improved social interaction and behavioral symptoms.
CBD Manages Comorbid Symptoms
Patients with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) generally display comorbid symptoms such as self-injury, aggressiveness, depression, hyperactivity, irritability, and restlessness, and irritability. Often, they exhibit lethargy as well as sensory difficulties. Administration of CBD oil has been shown to have great impacts on these comorbidities. For example, CBD can be used to treat related symptoms such as anxiety, hyperactivity, and aggression among others. This in turn has brought about significant improvement in indirectly connected areas such as speech and communication.
CBD Relieves Gastrointestinal (GI) Issues
A significant number of individuals with autism have functional GI problems which may include decreased appetite, constipation, stomach pain, gastroesophageal reflux, diarrhea, and other such issues. The effect of CBD oil on GI issues has been found to be positive with decreased cases of complaints as markedly improved quality of life. This may be due to the ever-present inflammation associated with most GI issues that CBD oil is able to correct as well as the ability of most patients to tolerate it and therefore get better results.
CBD Promotes Restful Sleep
Another very common symptom of autism is sleep disorders with the estimated prevalence being between 40 to 80%. The ability of CBD oil to cause relaxation and induce sleep has made it very useful in the treatment of autism. This also causes positive effects in other symptoms of children with autism spectrum. Relieving sleep problems and improving sleep quality will result in reduced behavioral problems, improved social interaction, and better overall treatment outcomes.
A study carried out to assess potential treatment with CBD oil on sleep, memory, sleepiness, and early-morning performance showed that CBD causes general increased alertness, while some THC strains may have sedative effects.
CBD Improves Psychosocial and Mental Health
Mood and anxiety disorders are a hallmark of ASD with about 40% of all cases experiencing escalating anxiety which aggravates other symptoms.
Several studies have shown that CBD oil has a positive impact on discomfort, anxiety, cognitive impairment and other comorbidities which directly affect the mental health of people with autism.
CBD Protects the Brain from Oxidative Stress
A correlation has been found between autism and higher levels of oxidative stress. When one experiences high levels of oxidative stress, there is a reduction of antioxidant serum proteins. These proteins are in part responsible for acquired language skills and interfering with them further impedes speech development in children suffering from autism. Studies have shown that CBD oil can offer protection to the brain from oxidative stress. This has long-term effects of allowing patients with autism to develop speech as well as other social skills.
The most commonly used CBD oil is produced without large amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol ), 0.3 % and under, which is the compound responsible for marijuana’s psychedelic effects. This means that technically, CBD oil in most cases is unlikely to get you high.
Parents with children who have autism across the country have taken a leap of faith in administering CBD oil to their children and their great anecdotal stories about the improvements. These improvements include better sleep as well as better regulated emotions.
Though CBD oil is generally touted to be great, it does not come without its drawbacks. Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, senior director of the Autism Center at the Child Mind Institute, has pointed out a lack of information related to using CBD in the treatment of behavioral disorders, especially in children who are young.
This is why it is important for parents to gather all the facts before they start administering CBD oil or any cannabis product.
“As parents, we give ourselves the daunting task of fixing everything. When your child is diagnosed with a developmental disorder like autism, the desire to fix things is even more exaggerated,” she says. “Treatment for autism takes time. Parents see CBD oil as an option that can address some of the needs in a way nothing else can.”
The areas of caution that a parent must consider before using CBD oil are:
- Though clinical trials to analyze the effects of treating autism with CBD oil have begun in places like Israel, the evidence is still not enough to support complete efficacy and safety. It is still not clear how CBD is absorbed by the body and all the actions it has after absorption.
- It is quite impossible to know the exact amount of CBD in your oil as the concentrations of different elements may differ from batch to batch as well as from one company and the next.
- A significant amount of CBD oil out there is not lab-tested, according to the Child Mind Institute, which means the possibility of administering THC as well as other unknown elements with the CBD oil exists.
- CBD oil may have adverse interactions with other medications.
- The consumption of CBD oil may lead to side effects like dry mouth and drowsiness.
It is also wise for parents administering CBD oil for the treatment of autism to consider the legal issues in play. While some states allow its use, especially when derived from hemp and not marijuana, others have completely outlawed it. Ensure you are up to date with the legislation in your state to avoid facing legal issues.
It is also important to seek professional medical advice before offering CBD to your child. It’s always better to be an informed consumer while making any decisions that affect the health of your child.
CBD and Autism
As discussed, CBD has great benefits for autism in managing and treating symptoms like anxiety, aggression, pain, insomnia, and seizures.
The three types of CBD are:
- Full-spectrum CBD retains most of the components of the cannabis plant, which might sometimes include THC.
- Broad-spectrum CBD which has the components found in the cannabis plant, with the exception of THC.
- CBD isolate which is pure CBD that contains no other compounds found in the cannabis plant.
While purchasing CBD for the use of autism treatment, you can purchase it in a range of products.
The most common forms of CBD are:
- Oils and tinctures as discussed in the first part of this article.
- Edibles: These are a form of CBD that you can actually eat such as gummies, brownies, and other food products. Edibles are discreet and easy to dose.
- Capsules: CBD is also found in the form of capsules which can be swallowed just like any other. It is easy to dose but its effect takes a little longer to take hold as it has to go through the digestive process.
- Topicals: These forms of CBD are applied directly on the skin for on-the-spot relief and include lotions, creams, patches, and balms.
- Vaporization: Inhalation of CBD is the fastest way of experiencing the effects. However, it is important to note that there have been lung injuries associated with this type of application.
For the above list, ALWAYS check your source, as well as only use products that have professional lab results attached to the product you plan to use or purchase.
Is CBD Safe to Use for ASD?
Though the FDA has recognized the potential benefits of CBD in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder symptoms such as seizures in recent times, it notes that much more research needs to go into it.
Currently, the only CBD medication approved by the FDA is Epidiolex, which is effective for the treatment of seizures in Dravet syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome. Before any drug is approved by the FDA, its safety and health benefits have to be proved in a large randomized clinical trial. As yet, no other OTC (Over The Counter) CBD medication has been approved.
While carrying out an assessment on CBD, the World Health Organization found that it is well-tolerated generally with a good safety profile and no indications of dependence or potential abuse.
However, some adverse effects that might be experienced while taking CBD for autism are:
- Changes in appetite or weight
CBD may also counter interact with some medications which are why your doctor or a medical professional should be consulted before starting use. This is even more important when using CBD to treat children with autism as they may react differently to adults.
Cannabis Oil for The Treatment of Autism
Cannabis treatment for autism in children is gaining popularity. Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders, affecting 1 in 68 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its debilitating symptoms include impaired communication and social skills, along with compulsive and repetitive behaviors. Autism typically emerges in infancy or early childhood.
Presently, only two medications are approved in the United States by FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) for the treatment of autism. Both of these drugs are antipsychotic and are not always effective in managing some of the severe symptoms of autism.
In researching cannabis oil for autism, Israel is making great strides and has even permitted the use of medical marijuana. Alongside Canada and the Netherlands, it runs Government-sponsored medical cannabis programs.
One of the first-ever clinical studies that have shown great promise in the use of cannabis oil for autism is a clinical study spearheaded by Dr. Adi Aran, a pediatric neurologist. He said of all his participants, nearly all previously took antipsychotics with almost half of them responding negatively. Cannabis oil was prescribed legally in Israel after a desperate mother obtained it illegally and noticed a significant improvement in her autistic son.
Aran noted a drastic improvement in seizures, a condition that afflicts 30% of autistic children. There were also great behavioral changes.
And while Aran is cautious about premature conclusions on the effect of cannabis oil on autism, he feels very optimistic based on what he has so far observed.
A surge in American interest in the treatment of epileptic children using cannabis oil was sparked by Alan Shackelford, a Harvard-trained physician in 2013. He earlier used medical marijuana to treat the seizures experienced by a young girl in Colorado, realizing drastic improvement. He however claims that his efforts to conduct clinical studies were met with closed doors despite the potential benefits. Though the U.S. government has spent $1.4 billion in funding marijuana research since 2008, most of it is dedicated to studying drug abuse, addiction, and withdrawal.
Given all the positive findings as well as the low risk associated with using cannabis oil to treat and manage autism symptoms, it might be beneficial to try it out on oneself if you are an adult living with autism or your child.
Before you embark on this method of treatment, follow the below steps:
- Check with your doctor or your child’s doctor to rule out allergies or sensitivities which could be set off by the use of CBD oils.
- Check to ensure that the use of CBD oils is legal in your province, state, or country.
- Carry out research on the brand of Cannabis oil or other extracts you intend to use ensuring that the brand you pick is well regarded as well as properly licensed.
- Take careful notes at the onset and during administration to ensure you hold baseline information on your child’s (or your) symptoms and behaviors to enable you to make useful comparisons for before and after cannabis oil use.
CBD Dosage For Autism
There is no standard dosage for CBD oil for autism spectrum disorder as research is still being carried out on the treatment outcomes as well as the effect of the different symptoms presented by the condition. This means that the amount of CBD required will vary depending on the autistic patient’s condition and symptoms as well as their total body weight.
This means that the dosage for an autistic adult will be greater than that of a child. Most studies have used full-spectrum CBD oils with CBD: THC ratios of 20:1 and 30% concentration (with a maximum daily dose of 600mg). Apart from Epidiolex (which is only a single molecule option and strawberry flavored, which some children are allergic to), no other CBD products have been approved by the FDA which implies a lack of verification and standardization of commercial CBD products as well as evaluation of the exact amount of CBD contained and exclusion of contaminants.
However, it is important to note that no formal guidelines exist in the usage of CBD products for children with autism. This means, according to the Autism Science Foundation, that the lack of research implies limited information on dose scheduling, target symptoms, adverse effects, or treatment duration. It is always safe to weigh the risks versus benefits with a doctor and test different quantities until a “sweet spot” is found for the specific autistic patient.
Although most CBD products from health food stores come labeled, not all labels will list the correct ingredients. This may expose the autistic patient to harmful substances or even THC where it was not intended. This is somewhat mitigated by company’s who have their CBD products tested and validated for quality by third parties.
It’s generally better to start with lower doses and adjust according to need.
How About Hemp Oil for the Treatment of Autism?
Hemp oil in and of itself does not contain any bioactive molecules. It is made from industrial hemp seed that is rich in fiber, essential fatty acids, omega oils, vitamins, and minerals. This can help to improve the health of the general population, including autistic children.
However, hemp-derived CBD products may offer benefits to autistic children. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC but has higher amounts of CBD. The benefits of hemp-derived CBD products are on the same line as the benefits of CBD oil for autism and could include anxiety management, seizure reduction, lessening of aggressive behavior, better sleep, and can improve the use of social skills.
As we have previously discussed, CBD helps deal with symptoms for the whole autism spectrum. While some people with autism may struggle with aggressive behavior, others have a problem with social interactions, irritability due to over-stimulation, and many other such symptoms. CBD is especially helpful for inducing sleep in people with autism as it has an overall calming effect that allows for total relaxation promoting sleep.
Cannabis Autism Research
Though research on the effects of cannabis on autism is still in its infancy stages, preliminary studies suggest medicinal properties that may help with autism. These studies lay the foundation for larger large-scale clinical trials and peer-reviewed studies to show the effectiveness of CBD treatment for children with autism.
In a study carried out in 2018, an improvement was noted in children with ASD after they were put on cannabis-derived compounds. This study however advised further evaluation of safety and efficacy with larger-scale clinical trials.
Other CBD and autism studies have suggested that leveraging on the potential cannabis synergy might even have greater benefits. This means that instead of using just cannabis isolate such as CBD, combining a number of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC might yield better outcomes for autism in its treatment and management of symptoms.
A smaller study carried out in 2019 on 188 autistic people found that the cannabis administered was well tolerated, effective in symptom relief, and safe.
Many strains of cannabis are recommended for the treatment of cannabis. We’ve seen higher CBD content and strong calming properties have helped alleviate anxiety as well as treat childhood seizures.
CBG for Autism
As we have previously discussed, CBD has a low affinity to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and its action in the treatment of autism is mainly to produce as well as regulate endocannabinoids. Cannabigerol, aka CBG, is one of the phytocannabinoids that are present in the cannabis plant. Like THC, CBG has a high affinity for both endocannabinoid receptors. It binds directly to the CB1 receptors in the brain and strengthens the effects of anandamide, a hormone that enhances pleasure and motivation. Unlike THC, CBG will not alter one’s mental status or trigger euphoria.
Research into CBG has shown that this phytocannabinoid has potential benefits in fighting inflammation, pain, nausea, and the proliferation of cancer cells. When combined in a full-spectrum cannabis product, CBG can be used to strengthen the effects of CBD in relieving autism symptoms through cannabis synergy. It is important to note that CBG is usually found in lesser quantities in the hemp plant and is thus harder to come by.
Is CBD For Legal?
With the Agricultural Act of 2018 aka as the Farm Bill being in full effect, you can purchase CBD legally in the U.S. However, the CBD has to be hemp-derived and contain less than 0.3% THC. Medical marijuana (containing more than 0.3% THC) is legal in 36 states, while recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states. Unfortunately, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Before you purchase CBD oil it is advisable to find out the specific laws on CBD in your state.
With medical marijuana now being legal in several states, we expect to see much more research being conducted in this area. Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to support the use of CBD for the treatment of autism, especially in severe cases where the use of existing therapies does not seem to have great gains. It is also of note that CBD appears to be well tolerated by most patients which makes it ideal for long-term use with minimal side effects. The symptoms of autism that CBD has shown promise in aiding include restlessness, rage attacks, depression, and seizures.
While these great therapeutic benefits can be realized by taking CBD for autism, it is still advisable to consult with your doctor or child’s pediatrician before offering cannabidiol oil to autistic patients. Everyone responds uniquely to medical marijuana treatment, CBD products are no exception.
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