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CBD and Autism in Children: What the Studies Say


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurological and developmental disorder, generally experience various symptoms. Some include delays and difficulty with communication and social interactions, limited interests and repetitive behaviors and cognitive impediments that may hurt or delay their ability to function in school, work or other areas of life. As it is considered a “spectrum” disorder, ASD displays itself differently in each person that has it, making severity and symptoms unique to that individual child.

ASD can be detected in some children as young as 12 months of age. However, more obvious signs tend to present between two to three years of age. In the U.S., it’s estimated that one in 59 children is on the autism spectrum and four times more common in boys than girls. 

Autism is a lifelong condition, and children with it often face a variety of other medical conditions. These can include gastrointestinal disorders, epilepsy, feeding/eating issues, disrupted and irregular sleep, anxiety, depression and more. As a result, some parents have been turning to CBD oil and other CBD products to mitigate these other issues, giving their children the best chance of success. 

The anecdotal evidence of success stories from parents can be compelling, but we feel it’s essential to look at what the studies say.

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Why Cannabinoids Are Being Investigated

Cannabinoids are molecules found in the hemp plant that can bind to particular receptors in your body. They mimic endocannabinoids, which your body naturally produces. There are two of these receptors, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors, and they reside in different areas of the body. CB1 receptors are primarily associated with the central nervous system and CB2 with the peripheral nervous system, though they have both been discovered in varying amounts throughout the body. This complex network of endocannabinoids, receptors and the enzymes that eventually break them down is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

flowering marijuana plant growing

Of the over one hundred currently known cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) are both of interest. This is because they have the potential for helping the comorbidities mentioned above associated with ASD. 

CBD has been investigated for the regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing. Less is currently known about CBG, but it is interesting because of its non-psychoactive nature while having properties that mimic CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In addition, CBG can bind to receptors in ways that both CBD and THC can. This makes it potentially useful for therapies involving gastrointestinal disease and metabolic syndrome. 

What the Research Says About Cannabinoids and Autism

A 2019 report in Nature Research analyzed the findings of a treatment program of 188 ASD patients treated with medically administered cannabis oil containing 30 percent CBD and 1.5 percent THC between 2015 and 2017. 

The results showed promise, with 30 percent of patients reporting significant improvement of negative ASD-related symptoms and almost 54 percent reporting moderate improvement. The same report found the cannabis oil administered to be a well-tolerated, safe and effective option to relieve symptoms associated with ASD. The most commonly reported side effect was restlessness in 6.6 percent of patients.

An analysis of peer-reviewed literature, also published in 2019, brought together knowledge gained from three ongoing clinical trials, five smaller previously conducted trials and other research and scientific data available. 

While some of the findings were mixed, they pointed out the promise of CBD for its ability to act on receptors inside and outside of the ECS. One example was as a serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) receptor agonist, which may explain some of CBD’s anti-anxiety effects in ASD patients. Additionally, they pointed out how CBD modulates glutamate-GABA systems, major neurotransmitters, that may be altered in individuals living with ASD. And lastly, they stated that CBD’s ability to bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS holds therapeutic potential for improving motor skills and sleep. 

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A Personal Decision

Making a medical decision for a family member is always a deeply personal and oftentimes difficult decision. We’re not here to say what you should or should not do. And we always recommend consulting your pediatrician or healthcare professional familiar with CBD prior to starting to use it with your child or anyone in your family who has been diagnosed with ASD. 

If you decide to incorporate CBD into their life, know that you have options. CBD comes in various forms, and the two most commonly used by those seeking to improve ASD-related symptoms are CBD tinctures and CBD capsules.

marijuana tincture dropper with capsules

The liquid form of CBD tinctures, also commonly referred to as CBD oil, allows them to be easily administered sublingually or via ingestion by adding them to liquids like water or fruit juice. They are also available in a variety of serving sizes, allowing for easy adjustment of amounts. 

CBD capsules are a convenient, portable option for those who can swallow capsules. The capsules sold at Head & Heal offer 20mg of CBD per softgel or slow-release capsule, which for many is an ideal starting point. 

Something your doctor will surely advise you of, and what we want to echo here, is that when it comes to CBD, the best recommendation is to start low and go slow and consistently use the product.

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