Researchers in Israel have recently discovered strong evidence that medical cannabis is an effective treatment for children who are on the autism spectrum. The medical journal Neurology will soon publish the study which highlights a clinical trial in which autistic children were treated with highly concentrated CBD (cannabidiol), a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis.
The study revealed that astoundingly, approximately 80 % of the children experienced an improvement in symptoms related to autism. Interestingly, the children had shown little or no improvement with conventional drug therapies.
The study was led by the director of pediatric neurology at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, Dr. Adi Aran, who treated the 60 children with a high-CBD cannabis oil (20% CBD and 1% THC). The children were treated for at least seven months with the oil.
After the treatment period, parents answered assessment questionnaires to characterize their child’s condition. Questions were asked about behavioral changes, anxiety levels and ability to communicate.
Here’s what they reported:
- 80% of parents noted a decrease in problematic behaviors, with 62% reporting significant improvements.
- Half of the children had improved communication.
- 40% reported significant decreases in anxiety.
Aran, a pioneer in cannabinoid therapy for autism, had originally began a 2017 project to test 120 autistic children. It was the first study of its kind worldwide, and was made possible by the Israeli government’s funding and willingness to embrace cannabis-related research.
Aran stated that when people began to hear about the study, his waiting lists became full with numerous families from all parts of Israel who wanted to participate.
Autism spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental and normally appear during infancy or early childhood, typically lasting a lifetime. The most severe cases have debilitating symptoms which include compulsive, repetitive behaviors, impaired social skills, and difficulty communicating. Some children are unable to even speak. It is estimated that autism affects 1% of the population worldwide.
The causes of autism are not understood and there is no cure—and the prevalence is climbing. In April 2018, the CDC updated its autism prevalence estimates to 1 in 59 children, up from 1 in 166 children in 2004. Doctors traditionally treat symptoms with antipsychotic medications, which have harmful side effects. Some children do not respond to these medications.
Aran had previously done a similar study on the effect of cannabis on epilepsy, a condition which affects 20% of autistic children. The researchers reasoned, while studying epilepsy, that certain cannabis compounds would likely help relieve some autism symptoms. While less than 2% of the general population has epilepsy, up to 33% of people affected by autism also have epilepsy.
Dr.Thomas Deuel, a neuroscientist at the Swedish Hospital in Seattle, feels that there is definitely a connection between the two. Although scientists don’t fully know what causes the relationship between autism and epilepsy, they believe that the early brain development that occurs in autistic children could likely be the culprit which creates the circuits that cause epileptic seizures.
It is this link that has caused many parents to opt to find cannabis treatments for their autistic children. There are numerous testimonials of parents who can attest to the effectiveness of CBD oils in making a difference and bringing relief to their autistic children. Unfortunately, the traditional medical system has remained skeptical while claiming that there is not enough data. There are countless stories of people with a variety of conditions who have found relief with the use of cannabis, but these are far greater in number than any scientific studies which might back them up.
The Future of CBD Research
Since 2015, only a few small studies have been conducted, with promising results. One of the biggest impacts to spur on future research has been the U.S. Food and Administration (FDA) approval of Epidiolex, a CBD oil-based elixir manufactured by British drug developer GW Pharmaceuticals as a treatment for two rare types of childhood epilepsy. Scientists took notice at the amazing body of evidence that GW Pharmaceuticals presented regarding the effects of the drug.
Now, New York University (NYU) neurologist Dr. Orrin Devinsky, the same scientist who did research on Epidiolex, is now conducting two studies on CBD effects on children aged 5 to 18 with moderate to severe autism. The only other doctor who is currently doing studies like this is Aran.
Since autism and epilepsy go hand in hand, CBD is showing promise for treating both conditions.
Perhaps as doctors begin to see the effects of Epidiolex, and review research like that of Aran’s and Devinsky’s autism studies, many more will begin to delve further into use of medical cannabis.
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