Cannabis oil may improve the lives of people with autism, according to new study
A new study out of Brazil suggests that cannabis may help improve the quality of life for certain people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 20 participants took a full-spectrum extract containing high concentrations of CBD or THC. 19 of the participants experienced symptom reduction with little to no lasting side effects.
Around one in 36 children in the United States identified as having some form of the condition. ASD symptoms vary widely (and may impact how an individual behaves, communicates, interacts, and learns from others), with some cases more severe than others.
A conflict of interest statement was included in the paper. One of the researchers is the founder of an endocannabinoid research institution, while another has a small percentage of ownership in a company that plans to develop cannabinoid-based medicines.
Even so, the results of the research are promising for individuals and families seeking relief from the challenges ASD can bring.
Study examined wide range of ages and symptoms
The research team wanted to explore the use of cannabis for ASD in people of various ages with different degrees of severity. The youngest participant was four years old, and the oldest was 38.
Symptoms were defined in part by reviewing current data as well as the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist. Some of the categories for observation included attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), overall mood, sleep issues, seizures, and impaired communication. Survey respondents also gave reports on the patient and family’s quality of life, the use of any other medications, and any adverse effects from cannabis.
The families of the participants volunteered for the survey and helped administer daily treatments and monitor behaviors. The doses were individually titrated by the supervising clinicians, with most participants taking cannabis oil for at least six months.
Treatments were considered CBD-rich when they consisted of CBD to THC ratios of 4:1, 7:1, 21:1, or 49:1.THC-rich doses had a THC to CBD ratio of1:4 or 1:22. Some of the patients did alter their doses based on perceived need throughout the study period.
Widespread improvement in symptoms, quality of life reported
The study notes that the majority of participants saw their symptoms relieved in some way. At least 77 percent of participants noted improved behavior, better sleep, and higher quality of life; the families of these patients reported improvements, too.
There was also progress in communication, with 85 percent of participants having increased “attention to receptive direct verbal communication.” Verbal communication was positively impacted in 50 percent of patients.
The researchers noted that intellectual and cognitive performance was improved in 57 percent of patients. The authors said this result was, “very striking since there is no other pharmacological treatment known to improve this impactful and recurrent aspect of severe ASD.”
Any side effects observed in the study were considered “mild and temporary.” They included agitation, excessive thirst, and eye redness. One patient did leave the study early due to “worsening symptoms,” but overall, the study authors considered the research to be helpful in understanding the potential impact of cannabis on ASD.
“As treatment evolved, most of other medications had their doses reduced or were completely removed during FCE treatment, which is consistent with the subjective perception of general improvement after (cannabis) treatment,” the authors wrote. “Patients’ and their families’ quality of life improved in 19 out of the 20 cases.”
Despite the small sample size in the study, the outcomes correlate with other anecdotal data regarding cannabis and ASD.
“Our study expands the scientific data demonstrating that clinical use of cannabis extracts is a safe intervention with promising and valuable effects over many core and comorbid aspects of autism, that are not achieved by conventional medications,” the authors concluded.
While not a silver bullet, cannabis has shown promise for people with ASD. As more is discovered about the endocannabinoid system and autism, it’s possible that plant medicine will be an important part of future treatment.