Can Cannabis Help Autism Patients? Early Studies Show Promise

Chances are good that someone you know – be it at work, school, on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – is impacted by autism. It’s an affliction that the U.S. government’s most recent numbers say hits one in 59 children ages 3-17, although other surveys say the number may be closer to one in 45.

In 2004 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had the number of autistic children at one in every 166. Clearly, the prevalence of the problem is increasing, and researchers are scrambling for answers.

The root causes of autism are not well understood and there is no cure. Doctors traditionally have attempted to treat symptoms with antipsychotic medications, many of which have harmful side effects. And some children don’t respond to these medications.

Cannabis Studies are Starting to Pour In

News keeps pouring in, however, that cannabis can combat autism. The mental condition that is characterized by difficulty in communication, in using language, in dealing with abstract concepts and in forming relationships.

In August 2018, the U.S. approved for the first time Epidiolex, a compound derived from cannabis to treat certain types of epilepsy. The approval of the new drug will require a change in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification of marijuana compounds as Schedule I drugs.

Schedule I drugs are those that have been classified as having no medical use and a strong potential for abuse. A ruling soon, and if the change goes forward, would ease the path for researchers investigating whether and how well cannabis can ease autism.

Israeli Study Could Hold the Key

Because of Schedule I issues, much of the cannabis research to date has taken place outside the U.S. Already an Israeli study suggests that cannabis aids those suffering with autism.

CBD Research Study – Autism

In a study led by Dr. Adi Aran, the director of pediatric neurology at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital and published originally in the journal Neurology and later in The Scientist, researchers treated autistic children with high concentrations of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Some 60 autistic children were treated for a minimum of seven months with high-CBD cannabis oil (20 percent CBD and 1 percent THC).

Following the treatment period, the children’s parents were given assessment questionnaires in which to report what changes, if any, they’d seen. Questions ranged from being about behavioral changes, anxiety levels and the ability to communicate.

CBD For Anxiety

The published study results said that 80 percent of parents noted a decrease in problematic behaviors, with 62 percent reporting significant improvements. Half of the children had improved communication. And 40 percent reported a decrease in anxiety when treated with CBD. (One-third of the study participants began the study reporting anxiety issues).

“I would be surprised if (cannabis) doesn’t help some kids,” Xavier Castellanos, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University, said. Castellanos leads the anxiety trial. “The question is: `Who?’ `How much?’ `Is there a right dose?’ There’s a lot of stuff to be learned.”

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