CBD as a Potential Treatment for Autism

Research has shown that CBD provides many health and wellness be benefits. Recent studies have further shown that it can be beneficial to individuals dealing with autism. Read on to find out more about autism and how CBD can help autistic people experience an improved quality of life.

What is Autism?

Autism is defined as a neuro-developmental condition which affects the way a person interacts and communicates with others. It is a wide spread condition that affects 1 out of every 68 individuals in the United States. Although there is no cure for autism, easy detection allows for children to develop skills and strategies to better deal with the condition as they get older.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects different individuals in different ways. Some common signs of autism include:

  • A delay in language skills development and learning functional communication.
  • Repetitive movements.
  • Impairments in interpreting and understanding non-verbal gestures.
  • Restricted interests.
  • A lack of interest in interacting with others.

There are three different types of autism spectrum disorders. These include:

Autistic Disorder: Also called classic autism, people with autistic disorder experience language delays, unusual behavior and communication and educational challenges.

Asperger Syndrome: This is typically less severe than classic autism. Those with Asperger’s may have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests but will have no problem with language or intellectual disability.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder: People with PDD-NOS will have milder symptoms compared to other forms of autism. These can include social and communication challenges.

Epilepsy and Autism

In some cases, children who are dealing with autism may be likely to suffer from epilepsy, a condition that brings on recurrent seizures. Children with epilepsy are a bit more likely to have autism and children with autism are a bit more likely to have epilepsy.

Seizures are the most common neurologic complication in ASD. However, only a small percentage of epileptic children will have autism and vice versa.

How CBD Works in the Body

To better understand how CBD benefits those with autism, it is important to learn a bit about how it works in the body.

Everyone has an endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system’s purpose is to respond to endogenous cannabinoids produced within the body. It can also respond to cannabinoids such as CBD and THC which are introduced through external sources.

There are two main receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors exists in the brain, central nervous system intestines, connective tissues, gonads and other glands.

The CB2 receptors are found in the spleen, tonsils, thymus and immune system. A smaller number exists in the brain.

Although CBD does not bind directly with these receptors, it does have an indirect effect on them. It also activates TRPV1 receptors which are involved in regulating pain, body temperature and inflammation.

CBD also inhibits Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) which in turn creates higher levels of anandamide which works to improve mood. It also performs other functions that promote several health benefits within the body.

How CBD Can Benefit Individuals with Autism

Anxiety and Autism: The relationship between anxiety and autism is still unclear but there is no doubt they are strongly related. Though research is still being conducted to determine the extent to which anxiety plays a role in causing or increasing symptoms, a lack of communication can make anxiety difficult for autistic individuals to deal with.

Because they experience communication barriers, they are not able to express themselves as others would making anxiety even more difficult to deal with. In many cases, autistic individuals will deal with anxiety by lashing out, sometimes in a physical manner.

Although there are several drugs on the market to decrease anxiety, most of these are unsafe for children whose autism symptoms are generally more severe as opposed to adults.

CBD has been proven to decrease anxiety. It works in the brain to boost serotonin reducing anxiety and improving mood.

CBD has been tested on children to determine whether it is safe as well as whether it would be effective in reducing anxiety. One study found CBD to reduce anxiety and improve communication skills. In addition, disruptive behavior and stress were decreased.

Although treatment was effective for many who were involved in the study, there were some reports of adverse events of sleep disturbances, irritability and loss of appetite.

Autism and Seizures: Seizures are caused by erratic electrical activity in the brain that can spread and cause uncontrolled physical movements or alterations in consciousness.

Most anticonvulsants work by slowing down excitatory nerve activity in the brain. However, in extreme cases of epilepsy, like Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) and Dravet Syndrome, patients are more resistant and require higher doses.

It is unclear exactly how CBD works to reduce seizures. It is likely to be related to the biochemical effects it has on nerve cells in the brain. Whatever the scientific reasoning may be, the compound has shown to be effective in the treatment of LGS, Dravet Syndrome and children suffering from epilepsy and autism.

According to research published in 2017 by the Journal of Epilepsy Research, studies were conducted to determine the efficacy of CBD in the treatment of seizures. The research showed that a dosage of 20mg CBD a day was effective in reducing symptoms when used in conjunction with other non-convulsive medications.

epileptic seizure improved

Other Studies on CBD and Autism

So far, there has been promising scientific evidence of how CBD can help in the treatment of autism. Here are some other studies that show the promise CBD shows as a potential treatment for autism.

Research conducted in 2015 studied the relationship of endocannabinoid signaling in autism. The ECB system is altered in neurodegenerative diseases. The system also controls emotional responses and behavioral reactivity.

The study showed that CBD’s effects on the ECB system can work to improve behaviors and could hold promise in human neurodegenerative/neuroinflammatory diseases like autism, Alzheimer’s and more.

Another study from 2013 investigated the involvement of cannabinoid system in PBMCs (Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells) from autistic children in comparison to normally developing children of the same age. It showed the protein levels of CB-2 were significantly increased in autistic children making it a promising therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of autism.

Another study from 2011 reviewed a mice who exhibited autism-like behavior. When mice were exposed to CBD they exhibited enhanced locomotor behavior and reduced depression.

A 2013 study studied the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of fragile x syndrome. This is a common cause of autism due to the silencing of the FMR1 gene. It was found that when cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 were activated, it normalized cognitive impairment and susceptibility to seizures.

Finally, a 2016 study looked at how early life inflammation can affect social behavior in adolescents. The endocannabinoid system was targeted in the role it plays in sociability as we grow older. It was shown the alterations of the ECB following postnatal inflammation can contribute to impairments in social behavior and could be normalized with stimulation.

Autism Success Stories

Facts and figures can be a bit cold so here are some real life stories about children whose lives were changed through the use of CBD and other cannabinoids.

The first of these is a four year old boy from Georgia. The boy, Alex, was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, autism and epilepsy. After using low doses of CBD oil, Alex was seizure free after just one week. He is also speaking more and engaging more with other people.

Another story of hope involves a man in Richardson, TX. His daughter suffered from a severe case of cerebral palsy and autism which would result in violent outbursts. Vaporized cannabis was the only thing that helped treat her symptoms.

Although the cannabis helped the child, the father still had many obstacles to jump through in trying to obtain the substance legally in his state.

One mother was distressed because her son was slow to develop motor and communication skills due to his advanced autism. Though reluctant to give her child cannabis, she finally realized that this was her best option. As a result, her son started speaking more, become more attentive and, most importantly, made eye contact with his mother more often.

Israel has long been a pioneer of studies concerning the benefits of CBD for autistic children. Although these studies have varying results, parents are desperate to find a cure when nothing else seems to be working. Some involved in these studies experienced negative results after treatment, but many made breakthroughs in communication and behavioral control. There was also a drastic decrease in seizures.

Although there is some concern that cannabinoids could harm brain development for children, opioids and antipsychotic drugs are more harmful, thus making CBD a better option in our eyes.

happy child


Autism is a condition that continues to plague our youth. Although there is no cure for autism, it is good to know that treatments like CBD are providing breakthroughs that can help children to better function and behave in society. There is no telling the positive developments that could be made as studies continue.


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