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The use of CBD to treat autism has become an area of focus for medical researchers. One of the most extensive studies in this emerging area is at The University of California—San Diego, where researchers are focusing on whether CBD can reduce problem behaviors in children with severe autism.
About one in 44 children in the United States have some form of autism spectrum disorder. Core symptoms of the condition include social and communication issues, repetitive behaviors, and rigidity. It’s four times more common in boys than girls.
The story of Ezra
One of the children in the study is Ezra, the son of Joann Fouquette, who told CNN that she had tried a wide variety of therapies to help manage her 10-year-old’s autism. They include going gluten-free, casein-free, dairy-free, and homeopathic remedies. She did not want to resort to psychotropic drugs because it made Ezra too aggressive.
CBD may provide a viable alternative. Fouquette told CNN that parents of autistic children are open to new ideas because of what they’ve lost.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “I’ve heard people compare it to like losing a child. You lose the idea of the child that you were gonna have, the life that you were gonna have, the life that he’s gonna have.”
A comfort level with CBD
Fouquette said she did not hesitate to try medical cannabis because she has seen what CBD has done for kids with epilepsy. To date, the only FDA-approved cannabis drug is one used to treat certain types of epilepsy. She said, “I saw how much it helped other people, and I thought, ‘it’s all-natural. There may not be any real side effects with it. Why not try it?’ “
Once enrolled in the study, Ezra started speaking, allowing him to communicate his needs to his parents better. Now 11 years old and out of the study for about a year, he has shown no signs of regressing.
According to CNN, even researchers are baffled by why some kids showed improvement and have not regressed after treatment with CBD. The study is not yet published.
Research into autism is happening in many places
What happened to Ezra is the dream for all parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Doris Trauner, the principal investigator in the UC-San Diego study, said in a release from the university that researchers hope to find that CBD helps reduce aggressive behaviors, as well as anxiety, hyperactivity, and repetitive behaviors.
“I’m really excited about the study,” she said. “If we can show that for the majority of children it has a significant benefit, it would be a whole new area [of] very exciting treatment.”
Previous research in this area remains limited. However, scientists in Israel recently reported making autistic mice less obsessive and more sociable by administering cannabis products. Researchers there found that cannabis with THC, the ingredient in marijuana that causes the high, might prove even more effective than CBD, which contains only tiny amounts of THC, if any at all.
Other past studies include:
- A 2018 study, also from Israel, found CBD oil may help reduce symptoms of autism.
- A 2019 study from Brazil found CBD oil reduced autistic symptoms in 14 of the 15 people in the study, all of whom had epilepsy.
- A 2020 study from researchers in the United States and Pakistan also found CBD helped reduce symptoms of autism.