Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in the cannabis plant. CBD does not induce a "high" because it does not contain THC, however it can help reduce anxiety and lower stress levels—symptoms that are common among people with autism.
Currently, there is evidence that CBD can help to alleviate specific symptoms and improve behavior in children and adults on the autism spectrum, but research into the safety and efficacy of CBD is still not conclusive.
Harvard Health Publishing, "the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.
CBD was found to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases stop them outright. Recently, the FDA approved the first-ever cannabis-derived medicine, Epidiolex, which contains CBD. CBD is often recommended to treat anxiety and insomnia. Studies report that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep."
CBD is not helpful for everyone who uses it, and, in rare cases, it can cause side effects such as sleepiness or nausea.
By relieving the associated disorders, CBD may help reduce some of the most problematic aspects of autism.
For example, it can induce better sleep and ease anxiety (which can reduce aggressive behaviors), fewer seizures (which lessens stress and makes it easier to interact socially), and lower anxiety so it is easier to learn and use social communication skills.
It's also important to note that sleeplessness and aggression are particularly difficult symptoms for parents, who can quickly find themselves exhausted and overwhelmed. Aggression, in particular, is one of the most challenging behaviors common to autism—oftentimes, this is a reason a parent may place their child with autism in an institutional setting.
"In 2014, The Ministry of Health began providing licenses for the treatment of children with epilepsy. After seeing the results of cannabis treatment on symptoms like anxiety, aggression, panic, tantrums and self-injurious behavior, in children with epilepsy, parents of severely autistic children turned to medical cannabis for relief."
The results of the study were encouraging. A majority of children involved saw improvement in anxiety, anger, and hyperactivity.
In addition, they saw improvements in communication, sleep, and self-injury (a small percentage, however, worsened with treatment). As a bonus, there were few side effects, and those that did appear (sleepiness and change in appetite) were mild.
Additional studies have yielded promising results: CBD has proved to be helpful in a majority of cases in lessening emotional and behavioral issues and can even help to improve social communication skills. These preliminary findings, along with the low incidence of significant side effects, are hopeful. Studies are ongoing in clinics and research centers around the world.
Before You Try It
Given all of the positive findings for CBD and the low risk associated with it, it may make sense to try using it with your child with autism (or trying it yourself if you are an adult with autism). Before buying a bottle of CBD oil, however, it's important to follow these steps:
- Check with your child's MD to be sure that no allergies or sensitivities exist that may cause a reaction to CBD.
- Check to be sure that CBD is legal where you live.
- Research sources of CBD to be sure the brand you're using has a good reputation and is properly licensed.
- Take notes to be sure you have information about your child's behaviors and symptoms so that you can make a useful comparison before and after using CBD.
CBD comes in many forms. Oils taste a bit bitter, and many people prefer chewable options. It's important to remember to keep candy-like drugs and supplements out of the reach of children.
It's best to start with a low dosage. In fact, studies of CBD for other disorders such as migraine suggest that a lower dose may be more effective.
Lower doses are also more easily tolerated.
When you start using any new supplement, drug, or treatment, be sure your child's doctor is aware of the new treatment and has no concerns about it relative to your child's health.
Take notes of any changes you see yourself so you can review and determine how helpful the new treatment is. Be aware of any troubling side effects. Communicate any side effects to a doctor or healthcare professional immediately.
A Final Word
Children with autism grow and learn daily, because they are maturing. Because of this, there is no simple way to determine whether a change in behavior or an increase in skills is due to a particular treatment. This reality makes it easy to see a change in behavior and falsely attribute it to a given treatment you've tried. By far, the best way to know whether a particular treatment is effective is to be vigilant about evaluating your child before and after its use.
To do this, create and use a numerical scale (1 to 5 for instance) to measure your child's behavior. Was today's angry outburst at a level 8 or a level 3? By evaluating the impact of a new therapy, you can eliminate the likelihood that you'll make decisions based on wishful thinking rather than with evidence.
We wish you and your family the best.