In a recently published study in the journal Neurology, researchers treated autistic children with high concentrations of CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant.
Israeli researchers have found compelling evidence that medical cannabis is an effective therapy for children on the autism spectrum.
Conditions in 80% of the children improved. Alternatively, the children had not shown improvement with conventional drug therapies.
THE STUDY UP-CLOSE
The study was led by the director of pediatric neurology at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, Dr. Adi Aran, who treated the 60 children with a high-CBD cannabis oil (20% CBD and 1% THC). The children were treated for at least seven months with the oil. After the treatment period, parents answered assessment questionnaires to characterize their child’s condition. Questions were asked about behavioral changes, anxiety levels and ability to communicate. Here’s what they reported:
80% of parents noted a decrease in problematic behaviors, with 62% reporting significant improvements.
Half of the children had improved communication.
40% reported significant decreases in anxiety. (Note: one-third of the study participants began the study with no anxiety.)
Just as Israel is a pioneer in medical cannabis research, Aran is a pioneer in cannabinoid therapy for autism. Aran originally began a 2017 project to test 120 autistic children. It was the first study of its kind worldwide, and was made possible by the Israeli government’s funding and progressive approach to cannabis research.
Aran said that when word of the study got out, his waiting lists were soon full with many families from all over Israel who wanted to participate.
Autism spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental in nature, usually appearing in infancy or early childhood and lasting a lifetime. More severe cases have debilitating symptoms including compulsive, repetitive behaviors and impaired social skills and communication. Some children cannot speak at all. Autism affects around 1% of people worldwide.
The causes of autism are not understood and there is no cure—and the prevalence is climbing. In April 2018, the CDC updated its autism prevalence estimates to 1 in 59 children, up from 1 in 166 children in 2004. Doctors traditionally treat symptoms with antipsychotic medications, which have harmful side effects. Some children do not respond to these medications.
Aran began small autism research studies after similar cannabis studies on epilepsy, a disease that affects about 20% of autistic children. While studying epilepsy, researchers discovered that certain cannabis compounds would likely also help some autism symptoms. Less than 2% of the general population has epilepsy, but up to 33% of people with autism also suffer from epilepsy.