CBD Oil for Autism: Benefits and Usage Guide for Children & Adults
Autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common developmental disorder involving dysfunctional social skills and abnormal cognitive function.
Learn how other parents are using CBD oil & CBD gummies to support children with ASD.
Autism spectrum disorder is an increasingly common condition, usually identified in early childhood.
There are virtually no effective treatment options for the condition, which negatively affects the quality of life and working capacity.
CBD is promising as a new and effective treatment option for those suffering from the condition.
In this article, we discuss how CBD can be used for autism, what the research says about it, and how you can choose the best CBD oil for the job.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Updated on July 19, 2021
Table of Contents
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The Benefits of CBD Oil For Autism
CBD has many suggested uses, some of them are well-warranted — others are a bit of a stretch.
When it comes to autism — a complex and difficult condition to treat — CBD is becoming a promising new treatment option.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have under-functioning anandamide (one of our primary endocannabinoids) and alterations in both serotonin and dopamine — two important neurotransmitters in the brain.
CBD works specifically by optimizing anandamide levels in the body by preventing its breakdown and increasing the rate of release of this important regulatory molecule. This offers direct benefits on autism by addressing what many researchers believe to be one of its main underlying causes.
Here’s how CBD May Improve Autism:
- Reduces the frequency and severity of seizures [6, 7]
- Reduces the severity of dysfunctional social behaviors in autistic patients 
- Reduces social anxiety symptoms 
- Alleviates addictive behaviors 
- Stabilizes mood disorders 
In one study, CBD extracts were shown to reduce epileptic seizures in 89% of the patients treated in the study. This is significant when you consider the fact that roughly 20-30% of autism sufferers experience either occasional or frequent seizures.
There’s even a pharmaceutical medication preparing to hit the market based on CBD that is specific for treating seizures. It’s called Epidiolex
2. Social Behavior Dysfunctions
Social behavior issues are the hallmark of autism. Sufferers often experience social anxiety, inability to communicate effectively, and inattention to social cues.
Most of the research in this area comes to us through case studies, involving the reports of doctors and parents watching over autistic children who take CBD oil. These carers take note of any improvements or worsening in social behavior during the course of treatment.
In an attempt to improve our understanding of this, researchers have started doing studies on rat models of autism. Many of those studies are noting significant improvements in socializing behavior in the affected rats after taking CBD .
Anxiety is an area where CBD tends to shine in terms of treatment options.
It works through a number of pathways in the central nervous system associated with stress and anxiety , starting with the hypothalamus — the main regulator of the stress and anxiety response.
CBD increases the sensitivity of this important region of the brain, making it more receptive to stress and therefore better able to regulate an appropriate response to it.
People with autism often lack effective stress management from this region of the brain, suffering a lot from anxiety when there are any changes in their routine or environment.
Other studies have shown direct improvement in social anxiety scores in a model based on public speaking .
4. Addictive Behavior
One of the most common traits of autistic children is addictive behavior towards stimulation-inducing activities, such as video games or television .
A dysfunction in dopamine release is thought to be the main cause of this. This neurotransmitter plays a key role in the reward center of the brain, which gives us a dose of the feel-good molecule — oxytocin — when we do something that benefits the body.
In some people, such as those with autism or in people suffering from ADHD, dopamine levels are low, causing them to seek greater stimulation to get the same response.
This makes it easy to develop an addiction to stimulating activities, like TV and video games.
CBD was shown to improve the addictive behavior in pre-clinical trials by improving the dopamine reward system — allowing sufferers to find the reward response more easily without needing to seek excessive stimulation .
5. Mood Disorders
A common finding in those with autism is mood disorders.
The most common forms are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, and psychosis. Many of these are regulated through serotonin activity in the brain.
CBD was shown to reduce hyperactivity of the serotonin receptors and has similar effects to lithium, which is a common pharmaceutical mood-stabilizing medication .
What’s The Dose of CBD For Autism?
Finding the dose of CBD is perhaps the most confusing part of the entire process.
This is because the endocannabinoid system is incredibly diverse from one person to the next, making it hard to know exactly how much CBD is needed to produce the desired effects.
With autism, it’s important to always start at a very low dosage and build up slowly over time, as you learn how it affects the individual directly.
For teens and adults, you can use our CBD oil dosage calculator. However, for children, you’ll need to adapt the dose differently. It’s best to visit a pediatrician to get expert advice on how to use CBD oil safely with small children.
For autism, we recommend staying on the conservative side and start with a much smaller dose than you think you’ll need — then gradually increase.
The right dose is identified when you find relief from symptoms.
Best CBD Gummies For Autism
Why You Should Avoid THC with Autism
THC has been shown to lower anandamide concentrations, which is already at risk of being too low in people with autism. Pushing this further could worsen symptoms, rather than improve them.
Cannabinoids like THC and THCV may also induce anxiety, rather than alleviate it, which is one of the most problematic symptoms for people with an autism spectrum disorder.
Cautionary Note When Using CBD Extracts for Autism
It’s important to note that virtually all the benefits shown to come from the cannabis plant towards autism come from high CBD and low THC extracts.
In fact, THC is likely to make symptoms much worse.
Therefore, it’s critical that only hemp extracts containing less than 0.3% THC are used for this condition.
What is Autism?
Autism isn’t a single condition, rather a group of related neurological disorders.
The official term for autism is Autism Spectrum Disorder, which highlights the fact that there is an entire spectrum of disorders associated with it — some far more severe than others.
All forms of autism will involve at least some degree of cognitive deficit. It often affects communication skills and one’s ability to function in school, work, or other areas of life.
Some of the Disorders Included in or Related to the Autism Spectrum Are:
While autism frequently brings cognitive impairments, in some cases (~10%) ASD involves something referred to as “savant syndrome”, where the person can display excellence in math, science, and artistic aptitude.
The savants tend to be much stronger auditory and visual learners, and have an excellent memory.
Of course, in the spectrum of autism disorders, this is not always the case.
How Common is Autism?
An estimated 1% of the entire population is suspected to have autism . That accounts for approximately seven and a half million people.
In the United States, it’s estimated that roughly one in 59 children have the disorder , and that number is on the rise.
It’s becoming increasingly important to find an effective prevention and treatment plan for those suffering from the condition.
What are the Signs & Symptoms of Autism?
Autism symptoms can vary a lot from one person to the next.
In order to classify them within the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, there are some general signs and symptoms that doctors take into consideration during diagnostics.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism May Include:
- Aversion to eye contact
- Frequent ignoring or interrupting
- Rarely sharing enjoyment with other people by pointing or showing things to others
- Solitary habits
- Difficulty carrying on with a conversation
- Showing facial expressions that don’t match the conversation
- Unusual tones of voice (robotic or sing-song)
- Difficulty understanding other people’s point of view
- Repetitive behaviors
- Abnormally intense interest in certain topics
- Increased sensitivity to lights or sounds
- Epileptic seizures (20–30% of cases)
What Causes Autism?
The causes of this condition are not well understood. There are just a lot of theories. In reality, there are likely to be many factors working together to cause autism.
What we do know is that autism is more common in people who have other family members with the condition (genetic link), in children who were birthed by much older parents (40 years or older), in combination with other disorders (such as Down’s syndrome or Rett syndrome), and in children who were severely underweight at birth.
Potential Causes of Autism May Include:
- Infectious diseases during fetal development or early childhood
- Severe underweight at birth
- Low thyroxine levels in the mother during the early stages of pregnancy 
- Autoimmune disease
- Lack of vitamin D during early development
- Lead or mercury poisoning
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
How is Autism Diagnosed?
Autism is a developmental disorder, which means that it originates during early childhood. The initial diagnosis is usually made around the 2-year mark but it can happen at any age.
More severe forms of autism are easier to diagnose, while subtle forms can go undiagnosed for decades.
The standard method for diagnosing autism is through the criteria of a book called the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders – or DSM5.
Doctors will often screen all children for any signs of autism during regular health checkups. If there are any signs and symptoms associated with the condition, a further psychiatric evaluation may be ordered, though this depends on the doctor.
If autism is suspected, blood tests, hearing tests, and further psychiatric evaluations are conducted to rule out any other condition that may explain the symptoms.
Often, children showing autistic tendencies simply have difficulties with their hearing, as it results in very similar symptoms.
Conventional Treatments For Autism
There are currently no effective treatments for autism.
Any medication or treatment given is for symptomatic support only. This can include anti-anxiety medications, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants, which are the most common.
In recent years, CBD has come to the surface as a potential treatment for the disorder after a series of parents and doctors have started to share their success stories in using CBD oils for autistic children.
Let’s get into how this works and what the evidence says about it.
What Is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol.
It’s one of the two major cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
They’re a group of compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system in the body (more on this later). They can be natural (from plants) or artificial.
The two main cannabinoids are THC and CBD. There are, however, over 60 other cannabinoids also present in varying concentrations in the cannabis plant.
Of the two major cannabinoids, THC is responsible for the psychoactivity, while CBD is non-psychoactive. This means it won’t produce any psychoactive effects, even in high doses. It does, however, produce a wide range of medicinal benefits, from anti-anxiety all the way to immune boosting.
The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Autism
All mammals have a set of receptors and hormones/neurotransmitters that collectively form the endocannabinoid system.
It’s a diverse system, involved with regulating processes all over the body including the liver, kidney, brain, and immune function.
It also plays a major role in the regulation of such things like emotion and social interaction, two aspects that are profoundly affected in those with autism.
Studies have shown that those with autism have lower concentrations of the body’s main endocannabinoid, anandamide when compared to healthy patients . This is a strong indication that a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system is involved with the symptoms of autism.
Some studies have even gone so far as connecting autism with the release of oxytocin, the primary neurotransmitter involved with reinforcing parental and social bonds. This process appears to be regulated through the endocannabinoid system , so you can see how CBD could be helpful.
Key Takeaways: Which CBD Oil Should I Use For Autism?
When choosing a CBD oil, it’s always important to look for something high-quality and avoid the cheaper, poorly made options which are common in the market.
These extracts are unreliable and may contain harmful additives.
For autism, you can choose to go with a full spectrum extract — which includes all of the other cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant — or a CBD isolate.
Full-spectrum extracts contain other compounds that help enhance the effects of CBD by improving absorption, passage across the blood-brain barrier, and maybe even offering therapeutic support of their own.
CBD isolates don’t contain these other ingredients but have higher doses of CBD. Most of the research on autism was done using CBD isolates.
It’s also important to remember to avoid anything that includes THC. In many ways, it has the opposite effect of CBD and can lower anandamide levels even further, thus worsening the condition. Always check the bottle for THC concentration.
We recommend taking a look at our article on the best CBD oils to learn more about it and to see what oil is best for you.
CBD for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), more often simply referred to as autism, includes a broad range of conditions that are characterized primarily by challenges in basic social skills, repetitive behaviors as well as speech and nonverbal communication.
Autism does not consist of one type, but instead has many subs-types and lie on a spectrum that is most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because of this, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. How different autism sufferers learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged with some people requiring a significant amount of support in their daily lives, while others may live entirely independently, or requiring little support.
There are several factors that influence the development of autism. For instance, ASD is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues. These concomitant symptoms and diseases can aggravate the symptoms of autism or interfere with treatment.
Signs and symptoms of ASD usually appear around the age of two or three, however some associated developmental delays can present as early as 18 months of age. Research shows that the earlier the intervention and treatment of ASD, the more positive outcomes can be expected later in life for those suffering from it.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Types
The three types of autism spectrum disorders are:
Autistic disorder: The most severe type, this is sometimes referred to as “classic” autism. People with autistic disorder have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests.
Asperger syndrome: This is a milder type of autism spectrum disorder. While people with Asperger’s don’t struggle intellectually, they do have difficulty with social interaction.
Pervasive developmental disorder: This type of autism describes individuals who meet some, but not all, of the criteria for the other subtypes.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
While symptoms vary across the autism spectrum, two common indicators of ASD include:
Social communication challenges
- Social withdrawal
- Unusual reactions in social settings
- Inappropriate social interactions
- A lack of empathy
- A lack of understanding social cues
- Not engaging with play with peers
- Problems with two-way conversations
- An abnormal tone of voice
- The avoidance of eye contact or poor eye contact
- Deficits in language comprehension
- A delay in learning to speak
- Flat or monotonous speech patterns
Restricted, repetitive behavior
- Abnormal body posturing or facial expressions
- Intense focus on one topic
- A preoccupation with specific topics
- Repetitive movements
- Self-abusive behaviors that result in injury and/or self-harm
Other autism symptoms and signs can also include:
- Learning disabilities
- Repeating words or phrases out of context
- Using odd words or phrases
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chron’s disease
Autism Spectrum Disorder Medications and Treatments
Although doctors haven’t identified a cure for autism, there are treatment options that can aid people with ASD in their everyday life that can include a combination of medicines and behavioral interventions.
There are no medications that can cure ASD, but can help manage problems with aggression, irritability, behavioral reactivity, self-injury and repetitive behaviors. Certain medications may also help reduce high energy levels and hyperactivity, aid with focus, reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression or manage seizure activity.
The core interventions for helping people with ASD are aimed at managing the core challenges of behavior and social interactions, for which several treatments have proven to be helpful. The include:
- Behavior and Communication Approaches including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) like Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) which build positive behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors, Occupational Therapy, Social Skills Training, Speech Therapy and assistive technologies such as communication boards and electronic tablets
- Dietary Approaches are aimed primarily at improving biomedical markers, although some parents feel that dietary changes make a difference in how their child acts or feels. Dietary treatments are based on the idea that food allergies or lack of vitamins and minerals can aggravate symptoms of ASD with changes including the removal of certain foods and using vitamin or mineral supplements.
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) can help relieve the symptoms of ASD. CAM treatments for ASD include chelation (a treatment to remove heavy metals such as lead from the body), biologicals (for example, secretin), or mind-body medicine. However, many of these treatments have not been studied for effectiveness.
CBD and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Research and Scientific Evidence
There is an increasing interest in the use of cannabinoids as a treatment for mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. This has also given rise to an increase in investigations into the effectiveness of Cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment and management of ASD symptoms, especially those related to behavior, with many researchers concluding that it has the potential to help those suffering from autism.
Cannabidiol Based Medical Cannabis in Children with Autism- a Retrospective Feasibility Study
Researchers published the results of a 2018 retrospective study in Neurology . Their objective was to assess the efficacy, tolerability and safety of CBD as an adjuvant therapy for refractory behavioral difficulties in children suffering from ASD.
They administered oral CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at a ratio of 20:1 (a similar ratio as that of hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD oils) to sixty children with confirmed diagnoses of ASD. The dosage was increased to effect a maximum dose of 10mg/kg per day. Efficacy and tolerability were assessed using various questionnaires including a modified Liverpool Adverse Events Profile, the Caregiver Global Impression of Change (CGIC) scale, the Home Situations Questionnaire–Autism Spectrum Disorder (HSQ-ASD) and the Autism Parenting Stress Index (APSI).
Data showed that, following treatment, behavioral outbreaks improved significantly in 61% of patients, anxiety and communication problems improved in 39% and 47% of patients respectively, and disruptive behaviors were improved on average by 29%. In addition, parents reported a reduction in stress. They concluded that this preliminary study provides so much support for the feasibility of CBD as a promising treatment option for refractory behavioral problems in children with ASD, that they have launched a large, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over trial with 120 participants.
Oral Cannabidiol Use in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder to Treat Related Symptoms and Co-morbidities
Reporting on the experiences of parents regarding the effects of oral CBD on co-morbidities such as aggression, hyperactivity and anxiety in their children with ASD, clinicians published their results in Frontiers of Pharmacology in 2019.
In this study, parents of children with autism were instructed to administer a full-spectrum CBD oil with a CBD:THC ratio of 20:1 at a concentration of 30%. The recommended daily dose of CBD was 16 mg/kg (maximum daily dose 600 mg), and for THC- daily dose of 0.8 mg/kg (maximum daily dose of 40 mg) for at least 30 days. The following four ASD co-morbidity symptoms were evaluated: hyperactivity symptoms, sleep problems, self-injury and anxiety using various measures and parental reports.
After objective analysis by an independent group of specialists including a pediatric neurologist specialized in ASD, clinical pharmacologists and pharmacists, results showed that CBD has the potential to improve ASD co-morbidity symptoms significantly. Their study found that, of the 53 children that received CBD for a median of 66 days, self-injury and rage attacks improved by 67.6% in 34 patients, hyperactivity symptoms by 68.4% in 38 children, sleep problems by 71.4% in 21 children and anxiety improved by 47.1% in 17 patients.
The effect of cannabidiol (CBD) on low-frequency activity and functional connectivity in the brain of adults with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
In another 2019 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, this time in adults, scientists investigated the effect of CBD on low-frequency activity and functional connectivity in the brain of individuals with and without ASD.
To investigate this notion, a task-free fMRI was acquired in 17 healthy men and 17 men with ASD. Testing took place following the double-blind oral administration of 600 mg CBD or matched placebo in random order. The fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (fALFF) in brain activity was measured across the whole brain. In the even of CBD significantly altering fALFF, they also tested if functional connectivity of those regions were also affected by CBD.
Their results showed that results regarding the effects of CBD were primarily driven by the ASD group, showing significantly increased fALFF and functional connectivity in, as well as between cortical regions that are consistently implicated in autism. The researchers concluded that patients with ASD respond differently to CBD, with the implication that it may affect the complex behaviors these regions modulate.
In addition to the scientific evidence indicating that CBD shows potential for relieving many symptoms of autism as well as those of co-morbidities, anecdotal evidence also shows that CBD may help manage ASD symptoms in some patients. Any search of Facebook groups or Google return 100s, if not 1,000s of results, with many people claiming CBD has helped them, or their child. In addition, online parenting and autism resources are also indicating that there is an upsurge in interest from people interested in using CBD for ASD.
The many properties of CBD has the potential to provide beneficial actions for relieving various aspects, symptoms and co-morbidities in patients with autism. As discussed, CBD may play an important role by, in particular alleviating symptoms of both refractory and disruptive behavioral problems, as well as psychological issues such as anxiety and sleep problems, potentially by changing the cerebral functioning of the brain areas implicated in ASD. However, research is still in its infancy, so it is important to always consult a medical practitioner before using CBD for ASD. Your treating physician or medical specialist can monitor dosage, symptom severity and other clinical parameters including drug interactions and contraindications.
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