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Autism and CBD Oil Current Research, Benefits: Is It Right for Your Child?

When a child receives an autism diagnosis, parents are often inundated with a list of potential “cures,” which may be temporary solutions at best, and life-threatening, snake oil schemes at worst.

CBD oil is something that often comes up on the list of potential autism treatment options and with so much misinformation out there, it is hard to tell fact from fiction.

If you’re considering using CBD oil for managing the symptoms of autism, here is everything you need to know, including the most current research on the topic.

Effectiveness of Using CBD Oil for Autism

Research into the use of CBD oil for autism is minimal, but the research that does exist points to its potential effectiveness.

Two such studies exploring the use of cannabinoids on children with autism were published in 2019.

A preliminary study was conducted on 60 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and severe behavioral problems. Patients were given cannabis with a high cannabidiol (CBD) content. The results were measured using the Caregiver Global Impression of Change scale, which requires caregivers to report levels of symptom improvement or worsening on a seven-point scale (very much improved to very much worse). One patient who’d received cannabis with a higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content did not respond well to the treatment. For the most part though, the results were promising and the study concluded:

“Following the cannabis treatment, behavioral outbreaks were much improved or very much improved in 61% of patients. This preliminary study supports feasibility of CBD-based cannabis trials in children with ASD.”

A further study was conducted on 188 children with autism spectrum disorder. They used medical cannabis with a 20:1 CBD:THC ratio and self-reported results after 6 months of treatment. Of the 93 patients who continued with treatment and completed the assessment, 83.8% reported a significant or moderate improvement to their condition.

Autism and Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a comorbid condition of autism, disproportionately affecting those with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Approximately one-third of people on the autism spectrum also have epilepsy, compared to a rate of 1.2% in the general population.

Across three studies involving people with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, CBD oil significantly reduced seizure frequency. In the case of Dravet syndrome, convulsive tonic-clonic, tonic, clonic, and atonic seizures were all reduced, while those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome saw a reduction in drop seizures.

Epilepsy is one of the few conditions the U.S. government has officially recognized as being treatable by CBD oil. After the publishing of the studies mentioned above, the advisory committee for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that pharmaceutical grade CBD, under the brand name Epidiolex, be approved for use in difficult-to-treat epilepsy. Epidiolex was officially approved for patients over 2 years of age in June 2018.

Benefits of Using CBD Oil for Autism

While CBD oil is by no means a definitive cure for autism, the research that’s been done so far suggests it may provide value to autistic patients due to its anticonvulsantanti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), and neuroprotective properties. Having also been shown to help manage mood disorders like anxiety and depression, CBD oil presents a promising tool for those struggling with autism.

Anecdotal reports from parents of autistic children have lauded CBD and cannabis oil’s ability to reduce seizures, decrease aggressive behavior, and improve speech, even in nonverbal patients. Because clinical research on using CBD oil to treat the symptoms of autism is so sparse, many people rely on these anecdotes when deciding whether to give their autistic child CBD.

While encouraging, it’s still very important to speak with your child’s pediatrician before starting a CBD oil treatment plan. Together, you both can decide on the best and safest path forward.

CBD for Kids with Autism: Is it safe?

There are a number of ethical problems that surround conducting scientific research on children, and because of this, there are few studies on CBD oil that offer any definitive answer to the question of whether or not it is inherently safe for children. However, there are some reports that point to CBD being largely unharmful.

For starters, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated, “CBD does not produce the effects that are typically seen with cannabinoids such as THC. It also failed to produce significant effects in a human study of abuse potential… it is generally well tolerated, with a good safety profile.”

Furthermore, in a review of clinical studies that was published in The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, a number of cases were reported in which CBD had been documented to help children. Among the concerns which CBD oil was found beneficial for included the treatment of behavioral symptoms.

A report in the journal Global Pediatric Health also states “CBD and similar products remain a promising yet unproven intervention in the treatment of children with ASD.” Only time—and more scientific research—will tell whether CBD oil is in fact a proven treatment method for autism.

With this in mind, and as with any other course of treatment where children are concerned, we recommend speaking to a healthcare professional before making any decision about using CBD oil.

How to Use CBD Oil for Autism

There are a few different ways to use CBD oil, and the one that is most suitable will depend on the autism patient being treated.

Because in a majority of cases the CBD oil will be administered to a child, it makes the most sense to use a CBD oil capsule, edible, drops, or tincture.

A CBD oil tincture or CBD oil drops will provide maximum dosage control and can be added to smoothies or shakes to disguise the oil and make it a more enjoyable for your child. CBD tinctures or drops may be best to start with since you can adjust the dosage down to the literal drop until you find the amount of CBD that’s right for managing the symptoms of autism.

A capsule also provides exact dosing, and can be given to a child at a morning meal time or alongside their other vitamin supplements. An edible, like a CBD gummy, may be more easily worked into your child’s regimen and present more as a treat than a treatment.

Depending on where you child lands on the autism spectrum, a combination of products may be what works best for their symptoms. For example, a capsule can be taken daily to create baseline benefits, while a CBD oil tincture or drops can be taken under the tongue (bypassing the digestive system) to reduce sudden symptoms of stress and anxiety when they occur.

CBD Oil Dosage for Autism

When it comes to determining dosage autism spectrum disorder, it is best to speak with your pediatrician. Most dosing recommendations that are included with CBD oil products are created with adults in mind.

In addition, you might consider speaking with a naturopathic doctor who may be able to provide you with more personalized information on which CBD oil products and dosages are best for you or your child.

Best CBD Oil for Autism

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which CBD oil is best for you or your child’s autism—at the end of the day, using CBD oil is a personal process, and what works for one person may not be desirable for another.

However, to get you started on the right track, you should keep the following in mind when shopping for CBD oil to ensure you’re getting the safest and most effective product for your money.

  • Look for an organic source.  Always choose brands that source their CBD from organic hemp. This will ensure that the final product is free of harmful chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides.
  • Check the THC content.  When administering CBD oil to a child, you will want a product that has little to no THC since it has intoxicating properties that could be damaging to a child’s functioning and development. In the United States, the federal limit for THC content in CBD products is 0.3% or less, but if you’d rather buy a product with 0% THC, look for products labeled as CBD isolates.
  • Read Certificates of Analysis (COA).  All reputable brands will third-party lab test their extractions and post the Certificates of Analysis for their consumers to read. This analysis will tell you everything that is or is not in your CBD oil product. A COA will help you determine the product potency (i.e. how much CBD and THC is in it), as well as report on whether any harmful pesticides, chemicals, or heavy metals are present. Because the CBD oil industry is currently unregulated, brands may make claims on their label that are not accurate. This is why reading a COA is crucial. If a company cannot provide a Certificate of Analysis, it’s time to shop elsewhere.

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