Studies around the world show that autism in children has increased significantly in recent decades [1, 2]. On the one hand, this may be the result of improved diagnostics and a better level of knowledge among doctors and parents, on the other hand, it may also be a result of today's environment. Genetic components also play an important role, but more importantly the mother's exposure to alcohol, tobacco, pesticides, plasticizers, stress and other things during pregnancy seem to contribute largely to the development of the disorder. So far, there is no specific and uniform treatment. Most commonly behavioral therapy and sometimes drugs with strong side effects are used. But what is autism and how could CBD contribute to a proper treatment in the future?
Without going too much into detail here, autism (or the autism spectrum disorder) is a disorder that affects the development of the child and is mainly characterized by difficulties in communication, empathy and socialization. Repetitive and restricted behavior is also a common symptom. However, some children also show outstanding skills in their perception and attention.
Until a few years ago, cannabis and therefore CBD, was considered an illegal drug in most countries around the world. Furthermore, research into medical cannabis has not been financed very well for a long time. However, this has changed and the first step was to study the effect of CBD on epilepsy. Parallels between epilepsy and autism were quickly recognized, since observations showed that CBD could help against psychosis, anxiety, aggression, panic, tantrums and self-injurious behavior as well as improve sleep [3, 4, 5]. These symptoms are also recognized in autism patients.
But no matter how many parallels were found, until recently we lacked any data that specifically deal with the effects of CBD on autism. In 2015, a Harvard review confessed that CBD has shown no generalizable influence on humans yet. The foundations were promising, but consisted only of animal experiments . But that changed a few years later when large-scale studies in children showed beneficial effects in relation to autism.
The first of them determined the safety, tolerability and efficiency of medical cannabis for children with autism, whose symptoms were previously considered untreatable . 61 percent of the 60 children showed improvements. One of the most recent studies showed that the drug is safe and well tolerated, and is an effective way to treat the symptoms associated with autism . Highly concentrated CBD oil with a very low THC content was used, which the participants took over a period of 6 months.
A total of 30.1 percent of them reported a significant improvement in symptoms, 53.7 percent experienced a moderate improvement, 6.4 percent mild improvements, and only 8.6 percent did not notice any improvement.
Even though CBD is not a cure for autism, the data offer a lot of hope for those affected. However, it should be kept in mind that autism is a very complex diagnosis and the mechanisms by which CBD intervenes in the symptoms are not yet fully understood. Further large-scale studies need to be carried out to examine long-term effectiveness, but these are already in the starting blocks.Sources: 1. Kogan, Michael D., et al. "The prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder among US children." Pediatrics 142.6 (2018): e20174161. 2. Lundström, Sebastian, et al. "Autism phenotype versus registered diagnosis in Swedish children: prevalence trends over 10 years in general population samples." bmj 350 (2015): h1961. 3. Shannon, Scott, et al. "Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: a large case series." The Permanente Journal 23 (2019). 4. Anderson, Christopher L., et al. "Cannabidiol for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy in children: current state of research." Journal of Pediatric Neurology 15.04 (2017): 143-150. 5. Spence, Sarah J., and Mark T. Schneider. "The role of epilepsy and epileptiform EEGs in autism spectrum disorders." Pediatric research 65.6 (2009): 599-606. 6. Hadland, Scott E., John R. Knight, and Sion K. Harris. "Medical marijuana: review of the science and implications for developmental behavioral pediatric practice." Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP 36.2 (2015): 115. 7. Aran, Adi, Hanoch Cassuto, and Asael Lubotzky. "Cannabidiol based medical cannabis in children with autism-a retrospective feasibility study (P3. 318)." (2018): P3-318. 8. Schleider, Lihi Bar-Lev, et al. "Real life experience of medical cannabis treatment in autism: analysis of safety and efficacy." Scientific reports 9.1 (2019): 1-7