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Could CBD be helpful for patients with autism spectrum disorder?

We examine the science and studies behind CBD and autism.



Could CBD be helpful in managing the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental disability. Could CBD help to ease some of the symptoms?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can affect how people communicate or interact with others or their environment. Some of the symptoms of the condition can be delayed language or movement skills, delayed cognitive or learning skills, hyperactivity, impulsive or attention-seeking behaviour. Some patients may experience epilepsy or seizures combined with unusual eating or sleeping habits.

Mental Health: Could cannabis or CBD help for autism spectrum disorder ASD symptoms

The National Autistic Society estimates that there are 700,000 adults and children with the condition in the UK. It is thought that one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum.

Increasingly, parents of autistic children have been turning to CBD for help with managing the symptoms.

One study discovered that one in five autism caregivers give their child CBD products. The autism parenting survey was sent to 160,000 subscribers around the world. It reported that 18.6 per cent of respondents confirmed they use CBD for a child on the spectrum to relieve a variety of their symptoms. This was further broken down to 22.16 per cent of US parents compared to 14.29 per cent of UK families.

How could CBD work for autism?

Research is limited on CBD for autism but there are some studies out there and research in this area is ongoing.

CBD and children with autism

One small scale study revealed that CBD may be effective when it comes to improving the symptoms of ASD in children. The study included 53 children who received CBD for 66 days. During this time, self-injury and anger improved in 67.6 per cent of participants with hyperactivity symptoms improving in 68.4 per cent. Sleep problems improved by 71.4 per cent while anxiety decreased by 47.1 per cent.

CBD symptom relief

Another study on 188 people with autism revealed that cannabis seems to be well-tolerated and had effective symptom relief. The study monitored the patients for six months on oil that contained 30 per cent CBD and 1.5 per cent THC.

CBD containing compounds

A review of existing research from 2020 revealed the potential effect of CBD on the mental health of those with autism.

Researchers wrote: “CBD and CBD-containing compounds such as nabiximols were helpful in alleviating symptoms of cannabis-related disorders, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, and comorbidities of ASD, and ADHD with moderate recommendation.”

CBD and sleep

A case study explored whether CBD improved anxiety and sleep in 103 patients in a clinical setting. 72 patients completed the study of which 47 initially reported anxiety and 25 reported poor sleep as their primary condition. Anxiety scores decreased within the first month for 57 patients and remained low. In the poor sleep group, 66.7 per cent, reported an improvement in sleep within the first month, although this changed over the course of the study.

What is better for autism? CBD or THC

It can be confusing to know which cannabinoid could provide better outcomes for autism patients. It is always important to speak to any specialist or doctor providing treatment before deciding to start using CBD or medical cannabis.

In the UK, medical cannabis can be prescribed for autism but it must be done through a private clinic. A patient can refer themself for an appointment to discuss if medical cannabis may the right option.

Cannabis biomarkers in children

Cannformatics has announced results from its 2021 study on autism spectrum disorder that identifies cannabis-responsive biomarkers in children. This was the first study to examine the saliva of children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) treated with different cannabis or CBD products.

The children followed a unique regimen determined by their response to medical cannabis for at least a year before the start of the study. The cannabis and CBD products were provided by a dispensary in California in the form of tinctures and edibles. They were split into two groups with 60 per cent of the children receiving CBD dominant cannabis and then 40 per cent receiving THC dominant cannabis.

The results also show how the cannabis-responsive biomarkers could be used to provide insights into the improvement of cannabis treatments for people with ADHD as well as other neurological disorders.

CBD dominant cannabis

A recent study from Turkey on adolescents with autism revealed that CBD-dominant cannabis may be effective. The study, which was conducted over a two year period, involved 33 adolescent patients being given CBD-dominant extracts. The patients had been diagnosed with mild to severe autism. Three of the patients were also diagnosed with epilepsy. The study used full-spectrum CBD with less than 3 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The ratio of CBD to THC in the preparation was 20:1.

The researchers found that there was a decrease in behavioural problems in ten patients, an increase in expressive language in seven patients and improved cognition in four patients. It was also noted that there was an increase in social interaction for three patients.

CBD or cannabis for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could it help with managing symptoms?

What’s the best type of CBD for autism?

No one oil is better for autism than another. It is worth noting that studies on CBD for autism have been conducted using high-quality oil which may not be the case with a retail equivalent.

It can also take time to get the dosage right or find a brand that suits your needs.

Oil and tinctures are an easy way to take CBD as you can pop it under the tongue. However, it can also be messy and the flavour may not be to everyone’s taste. Capsules or patches can be a mess-free option if oral consumption is not an option.

Edibles are great but it can be difficult to determine how much CBD you are ingesting due to the first pass system. Some of the CBD is lost as the edibles travel through the digestive system before being absorbed.

How will I know if it’s working?

This will vary from person to person depending on height, weight or symptom management. It is always best to start low or small before building up to stronger or more frequent doses.

Keeping a journal of changes is also recommended where you can start to see the effect of the CBD over time. Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you expect or a particular brand doesn’t work for you as it can take a while to get the dosage right. Friends and family may also see changes before you do so it is worth asking if they have noticed anything different.

Always talk to your GP or health professional before making any changes to your treatment or medical care.


Cannabis Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. All content on this site is intended for educational purposes, please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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