Refresh Checked Unchecked Menu Search Shopping bag Geolocation Person Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube Info Icon CBC Icon CBC Shape CBD Icon CBD Shape CBG Icon CBG Shape THC Icon THC Shape THCV Icon THCV Shape
Advertise on Leafly

New Study on Cannabis and Autism Supports Parents’ Longtime Claims

January 23, 2019
(CSA-Printstock/iStock)
Parents of some autistic children have long reported that their kids calm down with cannabinoids, are better able to communicate, and can do more tasks by themselves. But because of the restrictions on cannabis research in the United States, there have been precious few real-world studies to confirm those anecdotal reports.

A recent study out of Israel, which approved cannabis research in 2007, gives parents new evidence to back up those claims. Published Jan 17. in the journal Nature, the study found that yes, cannabis can relieve some of the symptoms suffered by many autistic people, including seizures, restlessness, and rage attacks.

“Cannabis in ASD patients appears to be well tolerated, safe and effective option to relieve symptoms associated with ASD.”

The study, “Real Life Experience of Medical Cannabis Treatment in Autism; Analysis of Safety and Efficacy,” followed 188 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) patients over a six-month period. The subjects were mostly male (81.9%) and had a mean age of 12.9 years, with 14 of the participants younger than five, 70 patients between six and 10, and 72 patients between 11 and 18. Their autism symptoms included “restlessness, rage attacks, agitation, speech impairment, cognitive impairment, anxiety, incontinence, depression and more.”

“Although many with autism are being treated today with medical cannabis, there is a significant lack of knowledge regarding the safety profile and the specific symptoms that are most likely to improve under cannabis treatment,” wrote the study’s authors, Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, Raphael Mechoulam, Naama Saban, Gal Meiri, and Victor Novack.

Related

Autism and Cannabis: Here’s What the Science Says

The aims of the study were straightforward: “to characterize the patient population receiving medical cannabis treatment for autism and to evaluate the safety and efficacy of this therapy.”

Its conclusion is emphatic: “Cannabis in ASD patients appears to be well tolerated, safe and effective option to relieve symptoms associated with ASD.”

Treatment and Findings

Parents have often reported that cannabis and CBD help calm their autistic children and help them focus. And for children who suffer from epileptic seizures, cannabis can help decrease the frequency. Parents such as Brandy Williams, a cannabis activist in Arizona, gave cannabis to her autistic son Logan, who experienced epileptic seizures, and noticed significant changes. He stopped rocking back and forth, and he was able to communicate more clearly.

Related

Arizona Mothers Challenge State Over Autism and Cannabis Oil

Most of the subjects in the Israel study were given cannabis oil (30% CBD and 1.5% THC). According to a representative for Tikun Olam, the largest medical cannabis provider in Israel, the cannabis oil was derived from the proprietary strain Avidekel, developed to give patients the benefit of whole-plant cannabis medicine with minimal psychoactive effects.

One month into the trial, respondents were asked to rate their quality of life using the Likert scale “ranging from very poor to poor, neither poor nor good and good to very good,” and report side effects to provide a better yardstick for the final results.

At the end of the study’s six-month course, 155 subjects of the original 188 were still in active treatment. Others had dropped out or began a different treatment option. Of those 155 patients, 93 had been assessed through questionnaires.

Of those 93 patients, 28 (30.1%) reported a “significant” improvement, 50 patients (53.7%) reported a “moderate” improvement, and six (6.4%) reported a “slight” improvement. Only 8 patients (8.6%) showed no change in their condition.

Roughly a quarter of the assessed patients (25.2%) experienced some form of side effect, but most were minor. The most common was restlessness, which was reported by 6.6% of subjects. Others included sleepiness (3.2%), a psychoactive effect (3.2%), increased appetite (3.2%), digestion problems (3.2%), dry mouth (2.2%) and lack of appetite (2.2%).

Related

Study: With CBD, 80% of Children With Autism Saw Improvement

The patients reported that their quality of life—that is “their mood and ability to perform activities of daily living”—had improved in six months. Prior to the study, 31.3% said they had a good quality of life. After, that figure more than doubled, rising to 66.8%.

“Quality of life” isn’t some nebulous thing. It has real-world meaning. For instance, the subject’s parents found that patients could dress themselves more easily after six months, an improvement of 21.5%.

Autism and Epilepsy

Nearly a third of autistic people are diagnosed with epilepsy—a condition that has been shown to respond well to cannabis treatment.

Related

A Parent’s Guide to Pediatric Seizures and Cannabinoid Medicine

In the Israeli study, 14.4% of the participants had epilepsy. As in many studies involving autism, the subjects were usually taking other medications, which can make it more difficult to assess the effectiveness of cannabis treatment. Some of the patients in the study, for example, were also taking antipsychotic, antiepileptic, and antidepressant drugs.

Of the 93 patients who responded to the final questionnaire—about a third decreased or stopped some of those medications. After six months, 11 of the patients had stopped taking antipsychotic medication altogether.

Dosing Depends

The doses were not a one-size-fits all application—some patients received a drop of oil three times a day that contained 15 milligrams CBD and 0.75 mg THC. Others received up to 20 drops of oil three times a day.

Related

A Physician’s Perspective on Optimal Cannabis Dosing

Though the study is a step forward for demonstrating that cannabis can help autistic people, the researchers believe more work needs to be done. “While this study suggest that cannabis treatment is safe and can improve ASD symptoms and improve ASD patient’s quality of life, we believe that double blind placebo-controlled trials are crucial for a better understanding of the cannabis effect on ASD patients.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the specific strain, Tikun Olam’s Avidekel, used in the study.

Tricia Romano's Bio Image

Tricia Romano

Tricia Romano is the former editor in chief of The Stranger. She previously worked as a staff writer at the Seattle Times, and has been published in the New York Times, Elle.com, Rolling Stone, the New York Post, New York magazine, Slate, Grantland, Spin, and Salon. She covered underground culture in New York City for the Village Voice for eight years in her column “Fly Life.”

View Tricia Romano's articles

  • malcolmkyle

    Three studies presented at the American Epilepsy Society’s 69th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia Dec. 7th 2017 found a cannabis-derived extract slashed pediatric seizures in half, and completely stopped seizures in nine percent of cases.

    Sixteen clinics in the U.S. — including one in San Francisco — are giving a marijuana extract rich in the molecule cannabidiol (called Epidiolex) to a total of 261 people — mostly children with incurable epilepsy, a sometimes deadly seizure disorder.

    “After three months of treatment, the frequency of all seizures was reduced by a median of 45 percent in all participants. Almost half (47%) of the participants in the study experienced a 50 percent or greater reduction in seizures and nine percent of patients were seizure-free. Among specific patient populations, DS patients had a 62 percent reduction in seizures and 13 percent were seizure-free. Patients with LGS experienced a 71 percent reduction in atonic seizures,” stated a release from the American Epilepsy Society.

    “We are pleased to report these promising data on significant numbers of children,” stated lead author Orrin Devinsky, M.D., of New York University Langone Medical Center’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, in a release. “These data reinforce and support the safety and efficacy we have shared in previous studies. Most importantly it is providing hope to the children and their families who have been living with debilitating seizures.”

  • bL1X

    Regardless, it is rather obvious and suspicious that the US would criminalize cannabis and ban any cannabis research. We all know some of the reasons why, but there’s likely more reasons than those.
    The vast majority of nonsensical government decisions begin to make sense when viewed from the perspective they just want us to suffer.

    • Stel-1776

      Big Pharma has big influence. Cannabis can replace or reduce usage of a number of their profitable drugs.

  • David D

    I’m also 10x better with cannabis oil from autism. It’s allowed me to get off all my prescriptions. But it’s illegal so I’m in constant terror of going to jail over this and have to deal with strange people to get medicine, and then I can’t know if there’s heavy metals or pesticides in it. It’s a messed up situation when something helps so much but we have to fear going to jail. It’s torture sometimes. I don’t want to get high, I don’t understand why anyone is against this plant, it’s helping us and almost no one cares, all anyone cares about is a chance some kid will abuse it? Makes no sense.