Autism spectrum disorder is an intriguing and thoroughly complex disorder. For decades autism has proven notoriously difficult to understand and treat. Here we discuss how cannabidiol (CBD) oil – a natural component derived from the hemp plant – may help.
For years, the anecdotal evidence for CBD’s ability to provide effective treatment for those with autism has been growing. And there are also a number of studies which we will discuss in this report. However, rigorous clinical trials on CBD’s effects on autism spectrum disorder in humans has been lacking.
In 2018, an Israeli-based trial will look at CBD’s ability to alleviate the symptoms of autism. It will determine if CBD is responsible for the reduction in the physiological impediments that come with the condition. Researchers plan to publish the results of the trial in the first quarter 2019 at the earliest. 
What is autism?
According AutismSpeaks.org, autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills. It often results in repetitive behaviors, verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties. And, interestingly, often times autism patients acquire unique talents and strengths.
ASD is currently defined as having “no behavioral, genetic, brain imaging, or electrophysiological tests [that] can specifically validate a clinical diagnosis.” ASD is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic inheritance and environmental conditions.
Autism is not a singular disease. It actually includes a range of disorders referred to as the autism spectrum. The term “spectrum” is used to illustrate the wide range of symptoms, behaviors, and personal uniqueness involved in autism.
Signs of autism begin to appear when an infant is around 18 months old. Although, medical professionals can identify certain indications of autism even earlier.
Some facts about autism
Below are facts and figures related to autism provided by the Autism Society. 
- An estimated 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder.
- 1 in 68 people born in the U.S. is has autism spectrum disorder.
- More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.
- Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010.
- Prevalence has increased by 6-15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010.
- Autism services cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated quarter of a billion dollars annually.
Research on CBD for Autism
CBD is a natural component of the hemp plant and is one of more than 100 compounds found in hemp which we refer to as cannabinoids. It does not produce any psychotropic effects. And it won’t cause a high. (Unlike THC – a cannabinoid contained in marijuana but not hemp.)
Research has shown that the body’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS, may play a direct role in regard to specific signaling pathways that are consistent with ASD. This is highly significant in terms of a potential treatment. Although, researchers do not yet know the exact pathways and their ultimate effects on the syndrome.
The ECS has a role in moderating chemical pathways in the central nervous system. ASD dramatically inhibit these pathways. Moreover, research suggests that the CBD may be a serious option in the future for treatment of the “psychiatric, neurodegenerative, and neuroinflammatory disorders” associated with ASD.
The Endocannabinoid System’s Role In Autism
In a paper published in 2015 entitled, “Endocannabinoid Signaling in Autism,” the authors suggest that the endocannabinoid system brings together 4 phenotypic features known to be atypical in autism: 1) social reward responsivity; 2) neural development; 3) circadian rhythm; and 4) anxiety-related symptoms. 
The authors of the study wrote, “It has been clearly documented that [ECS] plays a key role in many human health and disease conditions of the central nervous system… the potential therapeutic exploitation of distinct elements of this system (e.g., receptor targets, biosynthetic and hydrolytic enzymes, and transmembrane/intracellular transporters) seems immense.
CBD’s Effects On Social Behaviors
In another study, researchers at the University of Washington found that CBD normalized the social behavioral issues prevalent in mice with ASD. “They became more social, even preferring social interaction and there was a big reduction in the signs of social anxiety.” These are the same issues which usually become a problem for children with the disorder. 
Finally, according to a report entitled, “Consequences of cannabinoid and monoaminergic system disruption in a mouse model of autism spectrum disorders,” researchers showed that CBD is effective at reducing the excitation sometimes associated with autism. This may possibly be due to CBD acting as a pressure valve to prevent overstimulation, thereby helping to reduce stress. 
Treating Autism with CBD
The small amount of scientific information published on CBD’s effects on autism thus far is intriguing, to say the least. But the anecdotal evidence for CBD’s potential as a viable therapy for those with ASD is building quickly. For families looking for alternative treatment, CBD and autism might be the answer they were searching for.
The Anecdotal Evidence For CBD’s Effects on Autism Spectrum Disorder
In an essay entitled, “A Novel Approach to the Symptomatic Treatment of Autism,” Lester Grinspoon M.D. provides an in-depth look at some of the anecdotal evidence for CBD’s efficacy as a therapy for ASD. He begins by pointing out that “parents of some autistic children report that cannabis eases behavioral problems more effectively than conventional pharmaceuticals. Their anecdotal evidence should be taken seriously by medical researchers.”Grinspoon then lists numerous medically documented accounts of parents treating their autistic children with cannabinoids. 
In an article on Herb.co, after an in-depth look at the facts, the author concludes, that CBD is “anecdotally more effective at treating symptoms and much less harmful [than pharmaceuticals]… CBD and autism is such a great match because children are more engaged whereas antipsychotics leave them the opposite. Plus, hemp-derived CBD oil is available in all 50 states.” 
Another article in TheFreshToast.com talks about the late Dr. Bernard Rimland, former director of the Autism Research Institute. It states, “Rimland pushed the envelope more than some doctors were willing, at times advocating for use of experimental drugs. He was outspoken about the possible benefits of cannabis including reduction of aggressive behavior, self-harming behavior, and anxiety.” 
In the article, Rimland says, “the benefit/risk profile of medical marijuana seems fairly benign. … The reports we are seeing from parents indicate that [cannabis] often works when no other treatments, drug or non-drug, have helped.”
Clinical Trials On CBD’s Effects On Autism Spectrum Disorder
According to a piece in USA Today, one of the largest collections of anecdotal evidence regarding CBD for autism actually came from a clinical trial on epilepsy in children conducted in Israel several years ago. In the study, researchers determined that CBD acted as a very effective treatment for childhood epilepsy. However, the crucial bit of information with regard to autism was that up to 30% of children with ASD-specific conditions also suffer from chronic epilepsy.
As such, researchers observed that 70 of the clinical subjects that showed ASD-related symptoms such as aggression and anxiety were mollified in response to the CBD treatment. The observation was so profound, in fact, that it sparked the head researcher to gain funding for CBD-specific trials on autism, which as we said, are now currently underway in Israel.
Moreover, Yael Shulman, the mother of one of the subjects currently involved in the CBD for autism trial, was initially galvanized to approach researchers after seeing a news report on TV of another parent who “illegally obtained” CBD for her autistic son, only to soon realize that it was “the only [medication] that helped him.”
As Yael puts it, even the data is far from conclusive. Simply being part of such a revolutionary study is giving her hope that CBD for autism may finally be the treatment that her and her child is looking for.
You may also be interested in our article, “REPORT: CBD’s Effects On Anxiety Disorder.”
- USA Today: Marijuana may be a miracle treatment for children with autism https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/04/25/marijuana-pot-treatment-children-autism-cannabis-oil/100381156/
- Autism Society: Facts and Statistics http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/facts-and-statistics/
- Springer Link: Endocannabinoid Signaling in Autism https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13311-015-0371-9
- Marijuana Resources: CBD Research Supports Compound’s Numerous Health Benefits https://www.marijuanaresources.com/cbd-research-supports-compounds-numerous-health-benefits/
- PubMed: Consequences of cannabinoid and monoaminergic system disruption in a mouse model of autism spectrum disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21886592
- O’Shaughnessy’s: A Novel Approach to the Symptomatic Treatment of Autism http://www.beyondthc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/GrinspoonAutism.pdf
- Herb.co: CBD and Autism: Everything you need to know before giving your child CBD https://herb.co/marijuana/news/best-pipes
- The Fresh Toast: Cannabis May Provide Hope For Parents With Autistic Children https://thefreshtoast.com/rx/cannabis-may-provide-hope-for-parents-with-autistic-children/
- Marijuana may be a miracle treatment for children with autism https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/04/25/marijuana-pot-treatment-children-autism-cannabis-oil/100381156/
Research Papers on CBD’s Effects on Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Endocannabinoid Signaling in Autism
- Mutations found in individuals with autism interfere with endocannabinoid signaling in the brain
- Cannabinoid receptor type 2, but not type 1, is up-regulated in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of children affected by autistic disorders
- A novel approach to the symptomatic treatment of autism
- Consequences of cannabinoid and monoaminergic system disruption in a mouse model of autism spectrum disorders
- Targeting the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of fragile X syndrome
- Deficient adolescent social behavior following early-life inflammation is ameliorated by augmentation of anandamide signaling