Can Cannabis Improve Autism Symptoms in Children?

A new case study has raised hopes that cannabis may provide relief for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers have found that cannabis improved autism symptoms that included core social communication abilities. It also helped children to better manage anxiety, sleep difficulties and weight.

It’s a promising case study. Published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports by a team of researchers from Canada, the case involves a 15 year-old boy from South Africa who experienced symptom relief at a lower dose of cannabidiol extract (CBE) than the amount used in previous studies.

The extract is rich in CBD, which people now use for everything from combating migraines to reducing stress. But the idea of cannabis improving autism symptoms is relatively new.

The researchers wrote that the findings of the case study show that low doses of cannabinoids “may benefit ASD-related behavioral and core social symptoms, as well as anxiety, sleep disturbances, and weight. We encourage scientists and clinicians to pioneer placebo-controlled studies to validate the clinical efficacy of very low doses of CBE in a larger cohort.”

The Need For Autism Symptom Relief

About one in every 54 kids in the United States has autism spectrum disorder. ASD is found across all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC has reported a higher number of children with ASD in every report since it first started tracking ASD in 2000. For example, about one in 59 children had ASD in 2018.

While the rates have increased and can vary greatly from state to state, more boys than girls are diagnosed with ASD. The CDC and other health officials now push to test children before they reach the age of three.

Cannabis Helped Teen With ASD

The case study from the researchers in Canada focused on a 15-year-old boy with a history dating back to childhood involving social communication challenges, something common to those with ASD.

For example, he had difficulty using the appropriate facial expressions, making eye contact and controlling the use of gestures to regulate social interaction. He also had trouble establishing and maintaining friendships and has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. He also experienced seizures.

He took prescription drugs to battle the seizures, but his parents wanted to try cannabis, as well. With CBD, he experienced far fewer seizures. At low doses of CBD, he also underwent a change in his behavioral patterns. For example, according to the study, the following happened after three months of CBD use:

  • He stated to initiate and reciprocate conversations with those he previously had been unable to speak to
  • He became more motivated and energetic, starting his own vegetarian diet and exercise programs
  • He lost 6.4 kilograms after starting CBE
  • He was able to start his first part-time job helping customers and interacting with them
  • His mother told researchers he also now has a girlfriend

Many questions remain, such as getting the dose right to both help eliminate seizures while also providing the other benefits. The researchers said they hope the case study will encourage other researchers to do a larger clinical study on the potential for cannabis to improve autism symptoms.

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