CBD and Autism: Here’s What You Should Know

CBD and autism

CBD may be the perfect treatment option for people suffering from autism, according to a preliminary medical study published in Neurology.

In this comprehensive research conducted at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, 60 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were treated with high-CBD oil for over 7 months.

The results were incredible: 80 percent of the children reported overall improvements in their conditions.

More specifically, scientists found that CBD oil reduced autism-related anxiety, communication, and behavioral problems. The participants had not responded to traditional drug therapies for autism.

Given that one in 40 children in the US has been diagnosed with ASD, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this is huge news for parents, children, caregivers, and healthcare providers alike.

While research into the efficacy and safety of CBD continues, it has become an increasingly popular alternative treatment for a range of health conditions.

Could CBD be the much-awaited treatment for individuals suffering from autism spectrum disorder? In this article, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about CBD and autism.

We shall cover:

  • What is CBD
  • What is Autism (ASD)
  • How to choose the right CBD product
  • What the science says about using CBD to manage autism
  • What experts say about CBD and autism
  • What people say about CBD and autism
  • Concerns about CBD for people suffering from autism
  • States where both CBD and cannabis are allowed to treat autism
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What is CBD?

cbd autism

CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is one of over 113 identified chemical compounds called cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. Another cannabinoid with which you might be familiar is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical that’s notorious for producing psychedelic effects when you smoke, vape or otherwise ingest marijuana.

Unlike THC, however, CBD doesn’t induce any of those psychoactive or intoxicating effects.  Technically, it cannot get you high.

CBD can be obtained from both industrial hemp and the marijuana plant (cannabis). Since Farm Bill 2018 came into effect, all hemp-extracted CBD products are legal across the United States.

Cannabis-extracted CBD that contains more than 0.3 percent THC, however, is considered a controlled substance and therefore federally illegal.

Be that as it may, CBD is legal in all states that have authorized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Even better news, some states, such as Texas, have recently passed bills explicitly authorizing the use of CBD oil.

However, the market is highly unregulated.  And although one can buy CBD products without the need for a prescription, as a general rule of caution, it may be best to consult with your doctor before you start using them.

Variety is the name of the game when it comes to CBD products.  You can buy them as tinctures, capsules, pills, oils, chewables, edibles or vapes, just to name a few.

There is medical evidence that CBD products can play a role in treating intractable symptoms of disorders like insomnia, epilepsy, and anxiety.

Animal studies have also shown that CBD can help treat, improve or manage a range of other health problems, including chronic pain, stress, cancer, ADHD, digestive complications, and more.

How long it takes CBD to work depends on the condition itself, the severity of your condition, your weight, method of consumption, potency of the product and other factors.

It’s worth noting that CBD is not useful for everyone who takes it. In some instances, it can lead to mild side effects like nausea, sleepiness, tiredness, irritability, diarrhea, and appetite change.

What is Autism?

cbd autism

Technically known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism is a collective term for a group of neurological and developmental disorders that usually show up in early through late childhood.

People with these disorders usually have problems with social interaction and communication. They typically exhibit repetitive, stereotyped and often restive behavioral patterns. As such, they have difficulty developing or maintaining a healthy relationship.

Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder involves several different medical evaluations, genetic tests, and screenings.

Recent statistics reveal that 1 in about 40 US children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Interestingly, the prevalence of the condition is higher in males than in females, with a 4 to 1 boy-to-girl ratio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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ASD affects people all over the world, regardless of country, culture, race, economic class, or ethnicity.

Today, there are 5 recognized subtypes of ASD, as per the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The exact cause of autism is not yet known to the medical community, but environmental factors, genetics, and a history of viral infections are the major suspects.

There is no known cure for the spectrum disorder. However, a combination of speech, occupational and drug therapies and other interventions can help improve the quality of life and reduce the severity of symptoms.

Using CBD is the newest, albeit controversial, treatment option for people with ASD. Let’s take a closer look.

How to Choose the Right CBD Product?

cbd autism

CBD products are a dime a dozen on the market, and they are sold by several different brands. You can also find some products called “snake oils” online. In light of this, it pays to do due diligence and pick the right CBD product for autism.

AlhtoughCBD oils are extremely popular, you can also purchase tinctures that are administered using a standard dropper for proper dosing. Some CBD products have been encapsulated or even converted into tablets.

CBD can be vaped with e-cigs, baked into a cookie or brownie, or applied directly on the skin as a topical agent. Other CBD products may include beverages, chewable gummy candies, creams, lotions, soaps, and even transdermal patches much akin to nicotine patches.

With all these products at your disposal, making the right choice can be a little confusing, if not daunting. Here are some tips to keep in mind when selecting the best CBD product for you:

Hemp-based vs marijuana-based: You can pick your product based on what cannabis plant it was extracted from. This is usually a question of whether you want some THC or not in your product.

Hemp-derived CBD typically has a high concentration of cannabidiol and no THC, but that isn’t always true. Marijuana-extracted CBD, on the other hand, contains trace amounts of THC, depending on the hybrid and extraction process.

Some parents are sensitive about introducing their little ones to stuff that contain a psychoactive ingredient like THC. If that’s the case, CBD products made from hemp extract should be your go-to.

Isolate vs full-spectrum CBD product: The source of CBD is not the only defining factor. You can also consider your product based on how it’s extracted and processed.

Isolates are CBD products that contain only natural cannabidiol in its cleanest purest form. Some brands may call these CBD concentrates or crystals, and can consist of up to 99.99 percent pure cannabidiol. Even still, they may have trace amounts of flavonoids, terpenes, and other cannabinoids, but they are usually negligible.

Full-spectrum CBD products, on the other hand, have other cannabinoids that are extracted along with cannabidiol from the cannabis plant material. In reality, when people talk about full-spectrum CBD, they are almost always referring to CBD oil.

Full-spectrum products have high CBD and low THC content, as well as terpenes, flavoring agents, herbals, carrier oils, and other cannabinoids such as CBDA, THCA, CBC, CBG, THCV, and CBN.

Because full-spectrum CBD products have a variety of ingredients, they usually deliver more medical and therapeutic benefits than isolates. And that’s why they are recommended for better results.

3rd-party testing is crucial: How can you be sure that a CBD product contains what it says on the label? Because the industry itself is self-regulated, it is prudent not to take the manufacturer’s word for it.

That’s why you should be on the lookout for products that have been tried, tested, and validated by 3rd-party testing labs. If the brand can’t produce a 3-rd party lab testing report or certificate of authentication, you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.

Think legal: Following the signing of Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 into law, CBD products containing THC levels of less than 0.3 percent are now legal in all 50 states.

Keeping that in mind, it is important to know if the product has over 0.3 percent THC or not. The last thing you want is to land in trouble with law enforcement for a product that’s supposed to treat ASD.

If your state has legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use, you might be in the clear. You will be required to have a prescription in case only medical marijuana is legal, though.

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Consult with your doctor: As we’ve stated earlier, CBD may not be helpful for everybody who consumes it. Talk with your doctor to figure out if CBD may interact or interfere with any medication you’re taking.

Inspect the vendor/seller: The reputation of the seller can say a lot about the quality and authenticity of the CBD product. For online vendors, make sure the website is secure and watch out for red flags like lack of physical address.

Don’t forget to check the availability of customer support – after all, you might need help with dosing, returns, and other concerns.

In any case, be sure to read customer reviews and testimonials. Are there any complaints about the products, delayed shipping, refusal to accept returns, etc.? Bad reviews should be your cue to shop elsewhere.

Check additives present in the product: Most oils, tinctures, and other CBD products are fortified with flavonoids, essential oils, preservatives and other additives for improved potency. But some additives may be harmful to your body.

If you are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, for instance; it’s important to stay away from CBD products containing the protein. The same goes for potential allergens and irritants like MCT oils, glycerin, etc.

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What the Science Says About Using CBD to Manage Autism

cbd autism

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: no known medication or therapies, including CBD, can get rid or cure central symptoms of ASD. That’s what current medical literature says.

These intractable, core symptoms include repetitive or restricted behaviors, sensory dysfunction, and problems with social interaction and communication.

At best, CBD (and other drugs, for that matter) can only help reduce the symptoms of disorders related to ASD, such as stress, insomnia, tiredness, anxiety, and epilepsy.

The good news is that there are several scientific studies that seem to indicate that CBD oil is an effective alternative treatment option for alleviating symptoms of disorders associated with autism.

First of all, scientists have started to explore the link between autism and the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a brain center that’s always targeted by CBD when treating symptoms of conditions like epilepsy, anxiety and even chronic pain.

One 2013 study, for instance, revealed that mutations seen in people with ASD seem to interfere with signaling in the endocannabinoid system in the brain.

In another 2018 study, researchers discovered that individuals with ASD tend to have lower concentrations of anandamide than healthy persons. This is an endocannabinoid that has also been found to be deficient or imbalanced in individuals with disorders related to autism, like sleeplessness, cognitive disorders, anxiety, seizures, and stress.

To that end, scientists have a good reason to believe that CBD products might help curb these disorders linked to ASD.

For instance, one 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America showed that CBD can help reduce episodes of convulsive seizures in patients with Dravet’s syndrome.

In an earlier study published in 2015, scientists confirmed the same, showing that CBD can help reduce the frequency of seizures in another rare form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. They also found that CBD treatment can improve the patient’s quality of life.

A number of animal and model studies also suggested that CBD might help in managing autism. For example, a 2017 mice study showed that low doses of CBD could help enhance social interactions and reduce social communication deficits associated with autism.

In a retrospective study published in 2019 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, scientists evaluated the effectiveness and tolerability of CBD in 60 kids with autism and serious behavioral issues.

The results are encouraging. After using CBD-rich cannabis oil for the test period, caregivers noted that 61 percent of the participants showed significant behavioral improvements. However, a few side effects were observed, including appetite loss, irritability and sleep disturbance.

In a more comprehensive 2019 study carried out by scientists in Israel, 188 children with confirmed ASD were treated with CBD-rich cannabis oil. After 6 months of CBD use, nearly 90 percent reported a reduction in restlessness, while approximately 84 percent noted a reduction in agitation. Caregivers also noticed an improvement in sleep-related issues and rage attacks in 58.6 and 89 percent of the patients respectively.

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What’s more exciting is that quality of life improved by more than 35 percent after the 6-month treatment regime.

The bottom line is that science says that CBD may help relieve some of the most devastating aspects of ASD by alleviating the associated disorders like epilepsy, anxiety, sleep disorders, and stress.

For instance, reduced anxiety and better sleep can help manage aggressive behaviors. Similarly, by reducing seizure episodes, CBD can help curb stress and make it possible for autistic people to interact socially and improve their communication skills.

What Experts Say About CBD and Autism

cbd autism

There is a lot of noise out there about CBD and its potential in managing autism, but scientists and experts certainly have the final word.

Here’s a quick rundown of what subject-matter experts have to say about CBD and ASD:

Let’s begin with Ilera Healthcare’s CSO, Dr. Oludare Odumosu, who is also the lead scientist at Hope. The latter is a newly found program that is at the forefront of developing CBD and other cannabinoid-based drug therapies for autism cluster symptoms.

According to Dr. Odumosu, CBD oil is a promising candidate for treating individuals with ASD. He’s quick to note, however, that most findings on autism and CBD rely heavily on observational studies, and patient-outcome research, instead of long-term medical studies and comprehensive clinical trials.

While Dr. Odumosu says he believes CBD oil offers an effective, safe and tolerable treatment option for relieving symptoms linked to autism, he recommends that parents and caregivers should consult “a well-trained and trusted pediatrician.”

Another notable expert on CBD and autism is the CEO of InhaleMD and President of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, Dr. Jordan Tishler.

For Dr. Tishler, the biggest worry is the claims that CBD oil alone can help bring tangible results for people with autism. While talking to Weedmaps News, he said that CBD can provide more meaningful improvements and benefits when blended with low levels of THC.

“CBD is being used over the counter in a range of ways that is not supported by the science,” says Dr. Tishler to Harvard Health Publishing.

He went on to state that, according to his clinical observation, low doses of CBD oil with THC can be very helpful in controlling obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and tantrums in patients with moderate to severe ASD.

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What People Say About CBD and Autism

cbd autism

Here’s what caregivers, parents, guardians, and patients have had to say about CBD and autism:

Diagnosed with ASD at a tender age of three, Syler, Jordan McCreery’s son was prescribed Ritalin, a slow-release ADHD medication. However, the concerned parent noticed that his son was always “not himself” and often zoned-out

When he discovered CBD oil back in 2014, he decided to give it a try because his son was out of sorts. Since then, McCreery has noted significant improvements in his son’s life, including developmental and behavioral improvement.

From Jordan McCreery’s observation, CBD oil delivered similar results to extended-release Ritalin, all without the adverse side effects like zoning-out.

“I give my son, who is 7, cannabis oil to treat his Autism. AMA!,” exclaimed one Reddit user, DadCBD.

DadCBD admits that his son had severe autism, he couldn’t speak much, wouldn’t go on the potty, and he was notorious for sneaking out of school.

At first, dadCBD used Rispradol and signed up his son for ABA sessions. However, his son’s condition didn’t change much.

That’s until he took him to a researcher in Berkley who specializes in cannabis therapy for autism and epilepsy in children. After getting him on CBD treatment, the results were instant:

“The first night we gave it to him, he went right to sleep. He usually spends about 30-45minutes yelling and hitting the wall. He’s gone right to sleep every night since,” says dadCBD.

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The son now looks people in eyes, outburst and fits have dialed down, his speech has improved, and can now stand to pee (he used to go on the diaper).

Then there’s the story of Rebecca’s son, Calvin. At the age of 15, Calvin had nonverbal autism and had been aggressive and self-injurious since he was a toddler. Things went south when he hit puberty in 2012.

“Calvin would wake up screaming. He didn’t walk anywhere; he ran … He would run up the stairs, beating his head on the wall, screaming, “bath time” as he cried … He was [also] physically aggressive with his younger brother (who also has autism).” Rebecca told Parents for Medical Cannabis – Kentucky blog.

Rebecca started Calvin on CBD edibles, and she noticed significant improvement after 45 minutes or so. Today, Calvin’s quality of life has “gone through the roof.” He is not only more attentive and focused but his language skills and aggression have also improved.

Based in Puerto Rico, the story of Kalel Santiago is heart-wrenching. He was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer at the age of 10 months. Two years down the road was also diagnosed with non-verbal autism.

He remained speechless for several months until Abiel Gomez Santiago; his father stumbled upon hemp oil with CBD.

Two days after Kalel was put on CBD treatment, he started speaking and epilepsy episodes reduced drastically! Now 9, Kalel can say vowels and consonants without a problem

The success stories of Calvin, Kalel, and Jordan McCreery’s son are just the tip of an iceberg.

Concerns About CBD for People Suffering from Autism

Despite heartening success stories above, there are rarely published results of comprehensive studies about CBD in autism for either children or adults. Experts in the medical community don’t understand if CBD products are indeed effective in autism.

More crucially, no one knows exactly which autism symptoms may be treated with CBD oil and cannabis products. Furthermore, researchers and clinicians are not sure if CBD products are safe in the long haul or short-term for kids with ASD.

In light of that, some concerns about CBD for children with autism have come up, including:

cbd autism

Concerns about interaction with other drugs. Children with ASD are likely to be on a number of medications even before being introduced to CBD oil. That’s why most parents and healthcare providers are concerned that CBD products may interfere with other medications when taken ingested.

The question of THC and the impact on brain development. Some parents are worried that the presence of high concentrations of THC might hurt the child’s developing brain. And rightly so.

Research has shown that exposure to THC at a tender age can only slow down brain development but also elevate the risk of severe mental disorders like psychosis later in life.

Potential long-term effects on mental health. Whereas CBD has shown potential in alleviating mental health-related issues like anxiety and stress, some people are concerned that long-term use of THC-containing CBD products in children and teenagers may heighten the risk of chronic psychosis disorder, addiction, and developmental complications.

Concerns about the impact on a child’s liver. Use of high cannabis products may cause irritation and inflammation of the liver in children. This can potentially lead to liver disease and abscess.

Even in the backdrop of these concerns, parents still maintain that CBD is helping their children with ASD.

While scarce medical research has been conducted to prove the efficacy, tolerance, and safety of CBD in autism, that doesn’t matter in the eyes of parents like mom Alison Rogers whose son, Hudson, has ASD.

For Alison, CBD oil is a breakthrough because of the results she witnessed in her own eyes. She says cannabidiol has pushed her son’s quality of life to a whole new level.

While speaking to Today.com, she claimed that her child is more relaxed, displays better eye contact, less aggressive, and communicates better after using CBD daily.

At the end of the day, researchers and parents alike will discover more about CBD products as they track their kids’ conditions, as well as through carefully executed clinical trials.

States Where Both CBD and Cannabis Are Allowed to Treat Autism

cbd autism

Even though CBD products are readily available online and offline, there’s a gray area when it comes to the law.

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As such, it’s important to know of any federal, state or local laws before buying CBD products to treat autism.

The legal issue at hand has become a big quagmire for people with autism. On the one hand, all states allow for CBD use if THC concentration is less than 0.3 percent thanks to Farm Bill.

However, it seems that higher THC content may be needed to manage autism cluster symptoms. So, depending on the condition, the law is fuzzy.

Ideally, this is entirely legal in states that have explicitly authorized both cannabis and CBD for treating autism.

Thankfully, some states have expressly included ASD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.

These include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Utah, and Rhode Island.

The so-called “autism-friendly” states give physicians the leeway to use their discretion on whether to prescribe cannabis-containing products for debilitating conditions, including autism.

These autism-friendly states include Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, California, and Washington DC.

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CBD and autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a debilitating neurological and developmental disorder in which the person has difficulties with cognitive, social, language, and communication skills.

Because it has an early onset, it is quite rampant in children, affecting one in 40-59 kids in the US alone. Some of the most common symptoms include aggression, irritability, behavioral problems, social interaction difficulties, and communication problems.

Each individual with ASD is unique, and most of them consider autism part of their identity.

Unfortunately, there is no exact cure for autism. The next best bet is to alleviate conditions and disorders that are linked to ASD, such as epilepsy, anxiety, eating disorders, autoimmune disorders, stress, sleep disorders, and so forth.

25 percent of patients with non-responsive epilepsy have autism.

That’s where CBD products come into the picture. A growing number of scientific studies seems to show that CBD can help manage the vast majority of these disorder related to autism, especially epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia.

In a 2019 study involving sixty children with autism, for instance; scientists found that using CBD treatment led to improved behavior in over 61 percent of the subjects.

Another much larger study conducted on the same year corroborated these results, showing that CBD reduced restlessness in 89.8 percent of the children, improved agitation in 83.8 percent, and reduce sleep-related problems in 58.6 percent.

Experts like Dr. Jordan Tishler, InhaleMD’s CEO and President of the Association of Cannabis Specialists seem to concur.

But he cautions that CBD should be used on its own to manage autism. Instead, he posited using a combination of CBD and low THC cannabis to curb symptoms and conditions linked to ASD.

His colleague at Ilera Healthcare, Dr. Oludare Odumosu, shares the same sentiment that CBD products are an effective, safe and tolerable treatment option for autism.

However, he urges parents and those affected to seek out their doctors before jumping on the CBD bandwagon.

Parents who have given CBD to their autistic children have nothing but praise for CBD.

However, most of them have valid concerns, including an impact on brain development, the possibility of addiction, interference with other medications, and increased risk for chronic psychosis disorder.

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There’s also the question of the legal status of CBD when it comes to treating autism.

While Farm Bill made CBD products with no more than 0.3 percent THC legal, it seems like a higher concentration of cannabis is required to treat autism.

As such, using CBD that has enough THC to treat autism is only legal in states that have qualified the condition or have legalized marijuana. 

That being said, states where both CBD and cannabis are allowed to treat autism include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Utah, Rhode Island, Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, California, and Washington DC.

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Marina Turea

Marina has been calling Chicago home since 2007. She's a world traveler and an avid reader.

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