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CBD Use in Children with Autism: A Promising Future

CBD Use in Children with Autism: A Promising Future

The latest studies surrounding CBD and autism offer a promising glimpse into the future for helping to reduce some behavioral symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

While CBD is heralded for being beneficial to adults dealing with stress and anxiety, inflammation throughout the body, and even sleep issues, the new focus on using CBD in children with these neurodevelopment disorders provides a glimpse of hope to the families impacted by ASD.

Read on for more about CBD use in children with autism. 

What is autism? 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that may, according to UC San Diego Health, “affect cognitive development, motor skills, social interaction, communication, and behavior.”

This bio-neurological developmental disability “generally appears before the age of 3,” according to the National Autism Association (NAA), and “individuals with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.” 

In addition, states NAA, “Individuals with autism often suffer from numerous co-morbid medical conditions which may include: allergies, asthma, epilepsy, digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, feeding disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, sleeping disorders, and more.”

NAA further notes that autism is diagnosed “four times more often in boys than girls,” and that in the U.S., 1 in 54 boys is diagnosed with ASD. 

CBD: A powerful hemp-derived cannabinoid 

CBD—or cannabidiol, a cannabinoid compound found in the hemp plant—works within the body’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS. The ECS is a complex system that governs critical functions like metabolism, mood, sleep, memory, appetite, and reproduction; its job is to help bring the body to homeostasis, or balance. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are manufactured by our bodies to meet this homeostasis goal.

Within the ECS, there are two main endocannabinoid receptors: CB1, which mostly exist in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, found primarily in the parts of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord, like the immune cells. While CBD is still being studied, scientists believe that it doesn’t bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors the way THC (the cannabinoid found in marijuana that makes you feel “high”) does.

Instead, CBD is thought to either bind to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet, or more likely, to prevent endocannabinoids from breaking down—thereby ensuring they can function optimally to keep our bodies in balance. 

How does CBD work to help treat autism? 

According to UC San Diego Health, “CBD has been found to modulate nerve cell messages in regions of the brain regulating anxiety, executive function and behavior, blocking signals to key neuronal receptors that, when overstimulated, may trigger seizures.” 

Doris Trauner is an MD, Distinguished Professor of Neurosciences and Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and an attending pediatric neurologist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego with special expertise in neurodevelopmental disabilities. She tells UC San Diego Health,

“Studies using animals modeling ASD have shown that CBD has similar effects: Excitatory neurotransmitters are inhibited, leading to a reduction of behavioral and social deficits characteristic of ASD. CBD may have potential for many neurological disabilities, but there is particular interest in autism because the behavioral problems can be severe and limit the child’s ability to learn and socialize.”

Results of UCSD’s clinical trials involving CBD’s impact on ASD are pending, but the interest in CBD from both the scientific community and caregivers of children with autism is a signal that the momentum behind CBD and its capabilities is not slowing down. If anything, CBD continues to spark discussions about its possible impact on all aspects of our well-being. 

Parents are reaching for more CBD during COVID-19

For parents navigating their child’s autism, CBD is growing in popularity, even as it is still undergoing rigorous scientific study. In fact, a recent publication by the Jesse Grillo Marketing Agency states,

“In a survey sent out by Autism Parenting Magazine to more than 160,000 email subscribers around the world, 18.6% of respondents confirmed they use CBD for a child on the spectrum to help relieve a variety of autism symptoms. Breaking the data down further, 22.16% of USA-based caregivers use CBD versus 14.29% of UK caregivers.”  

The agency also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased first-time use, with 31.3% of respondents saying they started using CBD to manage their children’s autism during the pandemic. 16.6% of respondents admitted to increasing their child’s dosage since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Is CBD safe to give to children? 

As with anything involving your child’s health, consulting with a doctor before beginning a CBD regimen is highly recommended. While much of the anecdotal evidence from other parents may be positive, a doctor has a deeper understanding of the risks associated with your child’s unique health profile and can help guide you toward a solution that works for all of you. 

CBD’s promising future for children with autism 

Studies of CBD use in children with autism are, as we’ve mentioned, ongoing—and results are not yet conclusive. Still, preliminary research, like that published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, shows promise. 

In an observational study of 18 participants, the findings state: “After 6–9 months of treatment, most patients, including epileptic and non-epileptic, showed some level of improvement in more than one of the eight symptom categories evaluated: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; Behavioral Disorders; Motor Deficits; Autonomy Deficits; Communication and Social Interaction Deficits; Cognitive Deficits; Sleep Disorders and Seizures, with very infrequent and mild adverse effects.

The strongest improvements were reported for Seizures, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Sleep Disorders, and Communication and Social Interaction Deficits.”

In short, the publication concludes, “The results reported here are very promising and indicate that CBD-enriched CE may ameliorate multiple ASD symptoms even in non-epileptic patients, with substantial increase in life quality for both ASD patients and caretakers.” 

As CBD continues to be the focus of science-based research, parents remain hopeful that it will be another avenue to help treat symptoms of autism. With initial findings such as these, the future of CBD for autism is looking brighter.