Study: With CBD, 80% of Children With Autism Saw Improvement

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.

Dr. Adi Aran, director of pediatric neurology at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, led the study. He treated the 60 children with a high-CBD cannabis oil (20% CBD and 1% THC) for at least seven months. 

At the end of the treatment period, parents answered assessment questionnaires to summarize their child’s condition. The questionnaires were designed to provide information regarding behavioral changes, anxiety levels and the ability to communicate.

These are some of the notable results of the study:

• 80% of parents noted a decrease in problematic behaviors, 62% reported marked improvements.

• Half of the children showed improvements in the ability to communicate.

• 40% reported significant decreases in anxiety.  (One-third of the subjects began the study without 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.

It is not fully understood what causes autism and there is no cure. The prevalence appears to be escalating. In April 2018, the CDC amended its estimate for autism from 1 in 166 children in 2004, to currently 1 in 59 children. Traditionally, doctors have attempted to treat symptoms with antipsychotic medications, which can and do have harmful side effects. Additionally, these medications are not effective for some children.

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.

Autism and CBD Oil

Autism is a developmental disorder caused by a mix of genetic mutations and environmental factors that affects 1 in 59 children in the United States according to the latest survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The characteristics of autism are particular to each afflicted individual and vary across the spectrum.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for autism, but CBD has recently provided hope to many for managing the effects of this disorder. There are testimonials all over the internet by parents of children with autism who discuss the benefits of CBD, primarily its effect on seizures. The therapeutic properties of cannabis, primarily of the CBD, help alleviate some of the negative behavioral effects of the disease, such as anxiety and epileptic seizures.

Today we have a lot of ongoing research regarding children, where the main objective is to know if this type of treatment is 100% safe, tolerable, without side effects, and effective. Unfortunately, there is practically no study validating the idea that cannabis is an available option for the treatment of autism yet.

However, every day we gain new beneficial information and success stories regarding the treatment of autism using cannabis. There are several reports from parents claiming their children benefited positively after including cannabis in their treatment, such as a decline in aggressive behavior, a significant decrease in seizures, improved speech, including children who did not speak before and achieved significant results in a short period of time after their first dose of CBD oil. This is what generates hope in other parents who seek comfort and a better quality of life for their children. Always remember that before using any product derived from the cannabis plant, your doctor should be consulted.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a general condition of a brain development disorder.  The disorders are characterized by difficulties in social communication and repetitive behaviors, besides being associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in coordination and attention, in some cases, hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, anxiety, and depression.

Autism is a very complex disorder because it’s a spectrum of disorders that affect brain development. While autism affects each person differently, there are symptoms in common:

Relationship between Autism and Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain disorder marked by recurring seizures. It affects a third to a fifth of people who have autism. The autism-epilepsy overlap appears to be most common among people who also have an intellectual disability.

Researchers propose that some of the developmental brain changes associated with autism also contribute to seizures. These differences in brain development appear to cause changes in the activity of brain nerve cells or neurons. Neurons process and transmit information and send signals to the rest of the body. Certain disturbances in their activity can cause seizures.

Identifying and effectively treating epilepsy is critically important, given the potential for brain damage and death from uncontrolled seizures. While the association between epilepsy and autism is well known, diagnosis can be challenging because seizures are not always outwardly evident, and many people with autism have difficulty recognizing and communicating their symptoms.

How does CBD work?

From the moment that you start using a product that contains cannabidiol, whether it is edible or inhaled, you allow this compound to enter your body, into your bloodstream, and into your brain. As soon as it arrives, the cannabidiol interacts with specific receptors on the neurons called cannabinoids receptors, found in the cannabinoid systems that are spread throughout several areas of our nervous system.

The endocannabinoid system moves in a reverse direction when compared to neurotransmitters. It moves up to the neurons and attaches to the cannabinoid receptors of the neuron that will send a “message”. Once there, the cannabinoids are able to control what happens the next time the neurons activate and can effectively motivate good changes to the body and mind

CBD benefits

CBD has shown promising results as a treatment for a variety of conditions, many of which are otherwise not treatable. The most well-known properties are the neuroprotective, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic, besides possessing therapeutic value to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and dependence. You can learn more about CBD in our article by clicking here.

Can CBD Help?

There is still no concrete scientific evidence to prove that CBD is an effective treatment for autism or epilepsy, therefore, many people are skeptical of the process and the ethics behind it. Fortunately, many researchers are conducting research trials to discover advanced science to back the CBD claims.


This retrospective study assessed the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) based medical cannabis, as an adjuvant therapy, for refractory behavioral problems in children with ASD. Following the cannabis treatment, behavioral outbreaks were much improved or very much improved in 61% of patients. The anxiety and communication problems were much or very much improved by 39% and 47% respectively. Disruptive behaviors were improved by 29% following the treatment. Parents reported less stress as reflected in the APSI (Autism Parenting Stress Index) scores, changing by 33%. The effect on all outcome measures was more apparent in boys with non-syndromic ASD. Adverse events included sleep disturbances (14%) irritability (9%) and loss of appetite (9%).


Considered the most promising study about the relationship between cannabis and autism, this project was kickstarted with a donation of $4.7 million to the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. (This is considered the largest private donation to date for medicinal cannabis research in the US)The goals of the study include whether cannabis treatment is safe, tolerable, and effective in children with autism. The scientists predict research using the CBD for treatment, the substance of the plant that does not cause psychoactive effects and is most suitable for medical purposes. In addition, they seek to conclude whether the CBD alters the chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, and how this process occurs, whether it is capable of improving brain connectivity and whether there is any change in biomarkers of brain inflammation, a symptom also associated with autism.


Researchers in New York are preparing to conduct one of the largest studies on non-psychoactive compounds of cannabis for the treatment of autism. The tests will be conducted at Montefiore Medical Center and NYU Langone on children and adolescents aged 5 to 18 diagnosed with severe autism. The study consists of being double-blind, where neither the children nor the researchers know who is getting a placebo instead of the cannabis compound.


According to this research published in 2017 by the Journal of Epilepsy Research: “The results of these studies demonstrate that, at a dosage of 20 mg/kg/day, CBD added on to pre-existing AED treatment is superior to placebo in reducing the frequency of convulsive (tonic-clonic, tonic, clonic, and atonic) seizures in patients with Dravet syndrome, and the frequency of drop seizures in patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. In the latter patients, a dosage of 10 mg/kg/day treatment was also superior to placebo. Therefore there is now for the first time class 1 evidence that CBD improves seizure control when added on to other AEDs in patients with two difficult-to-treat epileptic encephalopathies.”

The United States has approved, for the first time, a compound derived from marijuana to treat certain types of epilepsy. The ruling may spell good news for autism research.

The approval of Epidiolex, the new drug, will require a change in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification of marijuana compounds as Schedule 1 drugs — meaning they have no medical use and strong potential for abuse — to something more benign. That decision is expected by 23 September.

The change would ease the path for researchers investigating whether marijuana can alleviate autism traits.

“The approval of Epidiolex has changed the regulatory landscape for cannabinoid products,” says Orrin Devinsky, who led some of the clinical trials on Epidiolex. “This will make future trials much easier and less expensive.” Devinsky is working on two other trials for autism.

Epidiolex has been approved to alleviate seizures in two epilepsy syndromes: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously approved synthetic forms of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC, to treat certain conditions. But this is the first federal approval of a product derived from the marijuana plant; 31 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana to treat epilepsy, and 6 do so for autism.

In a press conference announcing Epidiolex’s approval, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the FDA remains committed to “advancing this type of important and conscientious work.”

In the meantime, many parents have turned to dispensaries for marijuana to treat their autistic children, despite the lack of evidence.

Easier access:

The first few trials of marijuana derivatives to treat autism or related conditions are in their early stages. Some of the trials are testing cannabidiol (CBD), the primary ingredient in Epidiolex, and others cannabidivarin (CBD-V).

Last month, Pennsylvania-based Zynerba Pharmaceuticals announced that a synthetic CBD drug alleviates anxiety by 46 percent, on average. The trial included 20 men with fragile X syndrome, a condition related to autism. However, the participants were aware they were taking the drug, so they may have been susceptible to a placebo effect.

Three other trials in the U.S. aim to test whether cannabinoids alleviate aggression or anxiety in children with autism.

One trial aims to enroll 100 children with autism to test CBD-V’s effects on aggression, as well as social behavior and compulsion. Another is looking at the effect of CBD on aggression in 30 autistic children; in this design, half the group gets the drug to start and half gets placebo, and then the groups switch.

The researchers tried for years to win federal funding for this trial and eventually turned to private sources. Even after receiving the funds, it took them nearly a year to cut through the red tape imposed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, says Alysson Muotri, professor of pediatrics and cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

“It’s crazy when you think that this is CBD; it’s not cocaine,” Muotri says. “I am hoping that [the FDA decision] will change this.”

A third trial is looking at CBD’s effect on anxiety in autistic children with high intelligence quotients.

Starting gate:

As these trials gear up, they raise big questions about what aspects of autism marijuana-derived compounds treat, and what dosage might be best.

For example, results from a preliminary Israeli study suggest that a 20-to-1 ratio of CBD to THC alleviates aggressive outbursts in autistic children1.

In the anxiety trial, the researchers intend to explore hints from both animal studies and the Dravet syndrome trial that an intermediate dose of CBD, rather than a typical high dose, might be optimal for autism.

“I would be surprised if it doesn’t help some kids,” says Xavier Castellanos, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University, who leads the anxiety trial. “The question is: Who? How much? And is there a right dose? There’s a lot of stuff to be learned.”

To answer some of these questions, researchers at King’s College London are scanning the brains of adult men before and after they take CBD-V.

They have found so far that CBD-V may alter the connections between brain regions in men with autism, but not in controls. The team presented their preliminary data at the 2018 International Society for Autism Research annual meeting in May in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The researchers also plan to look at the effects of CBD on brain connectivity.

As part of his trial, Muotri plans to collect skin cells from the autistic children to grow brain-like ‘organoids’ in culture. In unpublished data, he and his colleagues have shown that organoids emit electrical waves that are similar to brain waves: The drug’s effects on these waves may identify the best candidates for CBD treatment.

“We need to do a lot more research to work out what is going on biologically with these compounds,” says Grainne McAlonan, lead investigator of the brain imaging study and deputy head of the Sackler Institute for Translational Neurodevelopment at King’s College London.