Study: CBD Improves Autism

Autism CBD
Recent research from Brazil indicates that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from marijuana, may have beneficial effects on autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study followed 18 autistic patients over nine months, treating them with a CBD-enriched cannabis extract. The results showed significant improvements in several areas, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral disorders, motor deficits, autonomy deficits, communication and social interaction deficits, cognitive deficits, and sleep disorders. The study suggests that CBD could offer a promising alternative to conventional treatments, which often cause major side effects.
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CBD is finally garnering enough scientific credibility to confirm what patients already know: The compound really works!

And now, recent research out of Brazil adds one more disease to CBD’s bliss-list: autism. In the study’s own words, its results are “very promising.”

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Autism?

While the word autism may bring to mind certain traits and behaviors, many people lack a clear understanding of exactly what autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is.

According to the the American Psychiatric Association:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors.

The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person.

Some aspects of autism continue to confound the world’s brightest scientists. Autism rates have risen 300% over the past three decades for reasons that nobody can quite pin down.  Further, there is no known cure for autism — only medications and therapies that serve to make life more manageable.

Which is why scientists, like the ones we’re about to review below, are working so diligently to learn more about autism spectrum disorder.

CBD & Autism

CBD may block PTSD memories, decrease anxiety, and promote better sleep. (It might as well be called the cannabinoid that can do it all!) So it’s only natural to wonder — especially given the problems with conventional autism treatments — if CBD could help this particular disorder.

Fortunately, the research so far says yes. And a study entitled, “Effects of CBD-Enriched Cannabis Sativa Extract on Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms: An Observational Study of 18 Participants Undergoing Compassionate Use,” might just be the most promising research to date.

Perhaps with CBD’s favorable impacts on epilepsy in mind, study authors were quick to note that “non-epileptic autism [may share] underlying etiological mechanisms” with epileptic diseases.

Putting two and two together, might CBD’s anti-epileptic benefits carry over into the world of autism on some underlying level? Researchers thought so… and they were about to prove it.

Clear Improvements

As its name implies, this study followed 18 autistic patients through 9 months of treatment with a CBD-enriched cannabis extract containing 75 parts CBD and 1 part THC. The cannabis extract itself was taken in the form of capsules.

As mentioned earlier, the results were pretty impressive. Almost every single patient who made it through the study demonstrated improvement in more than one of the following areas:

  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Motor deficits
  • Autonomy deficits
  • Communication and social interaction deficits
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Sleep disorders and seizures

The strongest improvements came in areas like seizure activity (which 5 of the 18 patients had), ADHD, sleep disorders, and social interaction.

How much improvement, you may ask? Good question:

  • 9 out of 10 non-epileptic patients had over 30% improvement in at least one of the eight categories
  • 6 out of 10 had over 30% improvement in at least two of the eight categories
  • 4 out of 10 had over 30% improvement at least four symptom categories

In the world of autistic treatments, these sorts of changes are very significant. And unlike conventional treatments, which are known to cause major side effects, the side effects that patients experienced in this study were about as mild as could be.

As the study authors summed things up:

Among the 15 patients who adhered to the treatment (10 non-epileptic and five epileptic) only one patient showed lack of improvement in autistic symptoms.

CBD-enriched [cannabis extract] yields positive effects in multiple autistic symptoms, without causing the typical side effects found in medicated ASD patients.

Autism & THC

But what about THC? While research has primarily focused on CBD, new studies are beginning to probe the potential of other cannabinoids, including THC (which is known to produce marijuana’s psychoactive effects).

According to a 2018 study published in Molecular Autism, anandamide signaling might be involved in the pathophysiology of autism (anandamide is an endocannabinoid that binds to the same receptors as THC):

Anandamide concentrations significantly differentiated autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cases from controls, such that children with lower anandamide concentrations were more likely to have ASD. In keeping with this notion, anandamide concentrations were also significantly lower in ASD compared to control children.

As the Psychiatric Times summarizes:

Research studies have suggested that anandamide produces effects similar to, but less intense than, those associated with THC. Because of this similarity, researchers theorize THC has therapeutic potential in the treatment of autism.

Updated: March 21, 2024

Thomas Wrona

Thomas Wrona is a freelance writer and former pro athlete who believes that nature’s wisdom provides an antidote to the stress of modern life. To date, Thomas has written over 1,000 articles in the cannabis/hemp niche. His writing focuses on how cannabis activates inner equilibrium en route to helping us stay above equilibrium with our environment. When he’s not writing about cannabis, fitness, or holistic living, you’ll probably find him outside!


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