Many families have reported the life-changing impact that CBD oil has had on their children with autism.
Does CBD have a place in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? This is a question that is still being asked and researched. In fact, CBD for autism has been studied quite a bit in the last 10 years.
Keep reading for our guide into the research on why CBD may offer a lot of support for those with ASD.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause social, communication, and behavioral difficulties.
Found in about 1 in 44 children in the US, it’s a lifelong condition that can cause a range of symptoms, which is why it’s considered a spectrum disorder.(1)
These symptoms can make everyday tasks and activities quite challenging for those with ASD, though the severity of symptoms varies from person to person.
ASD is found in all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups. But it's diagnosed four times more frequently in boys than in girls.(1)
Signs of ASD usually appear before 3 years old, though they can be detected within the first year of life.
No two people with ASD will have the same symptoms, but many characteristics of autism fall into the following categories:(2)
For instance — an individual with autism may avoid eye contact, or have trouble understanding or using spoken language.
Some restrictive and repetitive behaviors can include hand flapping and rocking. Or very particular interests — such as knowing all about trains or cars.
People with autism also often have heightened sensory processing, which can make certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells overwhelming. And they may also have a co-occurring anxiety and/or seizure disorder.
As a spectrum disorder, autism exists on a continuum — with some people exhibiting mild symptoms and others having more severe struggles. Some people with ASD are nonverbal and require significant support, while others live independently.
There seems to be a link between autism and the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Studies show that individuals with autism tend to have lower levels of endocannabinoids, which are compounds that help to regulate key biological functions.(3)
Researchers think that the endocannabinoid system may play a role in cognitive function, social and emotional interaction, and motor skills — all of which can be impacted in ASD.
You can learn more about the ECS in this pair of articles: What Is The Endocannabinoid System? and Endocannabinoid Deficiency: What It Is & How CBD Can Help.
Now that we know a little more about ASD, let's explore how CBD oil may be able to help. Starting with a quick overview of CBD….
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis — in both hemp and marijuana strains.
CBD (unlike THC) is a cannabinoid that does not cause a "high." Extensive research has yielded some promising information about CBD oil's potential therapeutic effects for a variety of conditions — from mental health issues to pain and movement disorders.
Autism is a lifelong condition. And each individual will have unique needs when it comes to the amount of support needed. But according to several years of research, CBD oil may offer some benefits for people with autism.
Unsurprisingly, many people are searching for natural solutions to help manage autism symptoms.
CBD is a natural substance that can complement other therapies and treatments, without causing any intoxicating effects. And given the link between endocannabinoid deficiency and autism — cannabinoids like CBD might help restore that balance.
Of course, it's important to talk to your medical team before adding CBD into your wellness plan. But for many people, CBD may be a great option for finding relief.
Scientific research is our best tool in understanding how CBD may be able to help people with ASD.
So let's take a gander at some of the latest studies on CBD and autism.
Children with autism often have co-occurring conditions (aka comorbidities) like hyperactivity, sleep disorders, anxiety, and aggressive behavior.
In a study of 53 children with autism, researchers found that CBD oil helped improve sleep issues in 71% of participants, hyperactivity symptoms in 68%, self-injurious behavior in 67%, and anxiety symptoms in 47%.(4)
CBD’s unique properties may allow it to target different symptoms of autism simultaneously.
One of the main benefits reported by those with autism who take CBD oil is a decrease in anxiety levels. This makes sense — as CBD has anti-anxiety properties.
Many families report that their children with ASD become less anxious and stressed after taking CBD oil.(5)
Clinical studies also suggest that CBD can help reduce anxiety in those with autism — one study found that almost half of the participants saw improvements in anxiety after long-term CBD use.(4)
One of the hallmarks of autism is difficulty with social interaction. This can make everyday life very challenging.
One study looked at the impact of CBD on a range of autism symptoms. It found that after the CBD treatment, 61% of patients saw improvements in behavioral outbreaks and 47% of patients had improvements in communication.(6)
In another study, 33 children with autism were given a daily dose of cannabidiol for 3-28 months (with an average of 6 months). The study reported that:(7)
In the same study, 4 of the participants also had improved cognition scores.
Those who experienced cognitive improvements were the ones who adhered to the CBD treatment for over 2 years.(7) This suggests consistent use may also play a role in how effective CBD is in managing symptoms.
Around 30% of all people with autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy.(8)
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder marked by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. It’s thought that CBD oil may be able to help with both autism and epilepsy by reducing the frequency of seizures.
One FDA-approved form of CBD oil exists that’s used to treat severe seizure disorders — Epidiolex. For individuals with autism and co-occurring epilepsy, Epidiolex may be a viable treatment option for the seizures.
At this point, there’s no specific CBD treatment for autism. As we mentioned, Epidiolex is a CBD medication that is approved to treat seizure disorders. But no other CBD meds have been FDA-approved for autism.
This leaves you with the option to try over-the-counter CBD products you find in stores or online.
Are these safe?
The WHO sees CBD as well-tolerated and with a good safety profile, for adults.(9)
Of course, it’s always best to speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement, natural or not. CBD may interact with current prescriptions, and each individual will respond differently to CBD.
But for many, CBD could ease many of the symptoms of ASD.
Scientists and consumers alike have found CBD helpful for a variety of conditions — like anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy. There’s some promising research suggesting that it can help people with autism as well.
CBD might be able to alleviate some of the various symptoms associated with autism, such as:
We advise anyone looking into a treatment plan to consult with a medical expert in order to weigh all of the options available.
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