CBD Oil as a Treatment for Autism
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Arno Kroner, DAOM, LAc, is a board-certified acupuncturist, as well as an herbalist and integrative medicine doctor. He operates a private practice in Santa Monica, California.
Cannabidiol , sometimes called CBD, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. Since it does not include THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, CBD does not induce a “high.” It can, however, help to reduce anxiety and lower stress levels—symptoms that are common among people with autism.
Currently, there is some evidence that CBD can help to alleviate specific symptoms and improve behavior in children and adults on the autism spectrum, but research into the safety and efficacy of CBD is in its earliest stages.
CBD can be derived from hemp or cannabis (the marijuana plant) and is now legal in many states in the United States and in many countries around the world. It can be purchased without a prescription as an oil, tincture, pill, or chewable pill online and is also an ingredient in edibles ranging from coffee to pastries. It comes in many dosages and at many price points.
Claims for CBD range from the realistic to the absurd. Some websites and companies claim, for example, that CBD can cure cancer (it can’t). On the other hand, CBD does seem to alleviate some untractable symptoms of disorders such as epilepsy, sleeplessness, and anxiety—all common issues for people with autism. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.”
In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases, it was able to stop them altogether. Recently, the FDA approved the first-ever cannabis-derived medicine for these conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD. CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.”
CBD is not helpful for everyone who uses it, and, in rare cases, it can cause side effects such as sleepiness or nausea.
How CBD May Help People With Autism
Neither CBD nor any other drug can remove or cure core symptoms of autism, which include social communication challenges, sensory dysfunction, and restricted, repetitive behaviors. CBD can, however, help to alleviate disorders often associated with autism such as epilepsy, anxiety, sleeplessness, and stress.
By relieving the associated disorders, CBD may help reduce some of the most problematic aspects of autism.
For example, it may cause better sleep and lower anxiety (which can reduce aggressive behaviors), fewer seizures (which can lessen stress and make it easier to interact socially), and lower anxiety to make it easier to learn and use social communication skills.
It’s also important to note that sleeplessness and aggression are particularly difficult symptoms for parents, who can quickly find themselves exhausted and overwhelmed. Aggression, in particular, is one of the most challenging behaviors common to autism—oftentimes, this is a reason a parent may place their child with autism in an institutional setting.
A few full-scale studies have explored the impact of CBD on children with autism—none, however, have explored its impact on adults on the spectrum. One of the largest such studies took place in Israel. The report includes the following finding:
“In 2014, The Ministry of Health began providing licenses for the treatment of children with epilepsy. After seeing the results of cannabis treatment on symptoms like anxiety, aggression, panic, tantrums and self-injurious behavior, in children with epilepsy, parents of severely autistic children turned to medical cannabis for relief.”
The results of the study were encouraging. Most of the children involved saw improvement in anxiety, anger, and hyperactivity.
In addition (and perhaps as a result), they also saw significant improvements in social communication, sleep, and self-injury (a small percentage, however, worsened with treatment). A tremendous bonus is the fact that there were few side effects, and those that did appear (sleepiness and change in appetite) were mild.
Additional studies have provided similar results: CBD has proved to be helpful in a majority of cases in lessening emotional and behavioral issues and can even help to improve social communication skills. These preliminary findings, along with the low incidence of significant side effects, are very encouraging. Studies are ongoing in clinics and research centers around the world.
Before Trying CBD
Given all of the positive findings for CBD and the low risk associated with it, it may make sense to try using it with your child with autism (or trying it yourself if you are an adult with autism). Before buying a bottle of CBD oil, however, it’s important to follow these steps:
- Check with your child’s (or your) doctor to be sure that no allergies or sensitivities exist that could cause a reaction to CBD.
- Check to be sure that CBD is legal in your state, province, or country.
- Research sources of CBD to be sure the brand you’re using is well-regarded and properly licensed.
- Take careful notes to be sure you have baseline information about your child’s (or your own) behaviors and symptoms so that you can make a useful comparison before and after using CBD.
CBD comes in many forms and at many dosage levels. Oils taste somewhat bitter, which is why many people prefer chewable candy-like options; of course, it’s important to keep candy-like drugs and supplements out of the reach of children.
In general, it’s best to start with a lower dosage. In fact, studies of CBD for other disorders such as migraine suggest that a lower dose may be more effective.
Lower doses are also more easily tolerated than a higher dose.
When you start using any new supplement, drug, or treatment, it’s important to be sure your child’s doctor is aware of the new treatment and has no concerns about it relative to your child’s health as well as let everyone working with your child know that you’ve started something new and ask them to look for and report any changes in behaviors or skills.
Take careful notes of any changes you see yourself so you can easily review your records to determine how helpful the new treatment really is and keep an eye open for any troubling side effects. Be sure to communicate any side effects to a doctor or healthcare professional immediately.
A Word From Verywell
Children with autism grow and learn every day, simply because they are maturing. As a result, there is no simple way to determine whether a change in behavior or an increase in skills is due to a particular treatment or to ordinary maturation. This reality makes it very easy to see a change in behaviors and inaccurately attribute them to the newest treatment you’ve tried. By far, the best way to know whether a particular treatment is truly effective is to be rigorous about evaluating your child before and after its use.
To do this, you’ll need to create or find and use a numerical scale (1 to 5 for instance) to measure your child’s behavior. For example, is today’s angry outburst at a level 1 or a level 5? By carefully evaluating the impact of a new therapy, you can eliminate the likelihood that you’ll make decisions based on wishful thinking rather than on solid evidence.
CBD Oil for Autism: Can Hemp Oil Be Used for Autism & Where to Buy?
CBD is partly responsible for the shift in opinions regarding cannabis use. It all started with the late Charlotte Figi, a young girl with severe childhood-onset epilepsy (Dravet Syndrome) who managed to effectively control her seizures and gain a normal life thanks to CBD oil.
Since then, CBD has become the subject of global debate. As scientists conduct more research on the health benefits of this natural compound, it appears that natural resources can succeed where conventional treatment options fail.
Autism is one of such conditions.
Some people with autism, as well as the parents of autistic children, use CBD oil to manage the symptoms and improve their daily life.
But what’s the exact mechanism behind CBD’s effects on autism disorders? How do you choose the right product for your needs, and how to tell the difference between a high-quality and low-quality product?
This article will explain everything from roots to branches.
CBD Oil and Autism: Can It Help?
Some people decide to choose natural products over pharmaceuticals because of their growing availability and higher safety profile. CBD is known for helping with the following symptoms:
- Mood disorders
Research on the potential use of CBD for autism is in its infancy as of this writing, but what we have learned so far is very optimistic. For example, an anecdotal study published in the Neurology Journal has found that applying CBD sublingually to autistic patients resulted in the improvement of behavioral problems in 61% of the participants. Communication problems, as well as anxiety levels, dropped by 39% and 47% respectively. The study included 120 participants.
The exact causes of the major symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, such as aggressive and repetitive behavior, social communication difficulties, and sensory dysfunction, are still unknown to scientists. However, CBD has been shown to relieve other symptoms linked to autism, including ADHD, anxiety, and sleep problems.
While CBD may not be the cure for autism — autism doesn’t require “curing” directly, by the way — but it may help patients manage the troubling symptoms that negatively affect the way they function on a daily basis.
Benefits of Using CBD Oil for Autism
Here we shed light on the most promising benefits of CBD oil for autism.
More Stable Sleep
In a study published in 2019 in the Permanente Journal, researchers discovered that people with sleep disorders can benefit from taking CBD. The study reported that 48 out of 72 patients (66.7%) experienced better sleep quality within the first month of their treatment. The results varied throughout the tests, but only three people responded negatively to cannabidiol.
Another study from the Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences found that autistic children suffering from insomnia were able to fall asleep faster and spend more time in the deep sleep stage by taking CBD oil.
The said study from The Permanente Journal reported a significant drop in anxiety levels in 79.2% of the examined subjects. More importantly, the results remained consistent throughout the entire study — without serious side effects. Only a few people reported fatigue and sedation. The study also found that patients were more willing to continue the CBD treatment compared to conventional psychiatric methods.
Anxiety is a prevalent issue among autistic adults and particularly difficult to manage in children and adolescents. Changes in their routine, as well as unexpected events and regular social situations, can deteriorate the anxiousness of those with autism, especially those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Using CBD oil to calm anxiety can lead to improvements in other areas of autism, such as selective mutism or nervous tics.
Better Focus and Attention
Autism can negatively impact one’s focus and attention. Autistic children often find it difficult to cope with distractions, such as background noise or even their own thoughts. For others, it can work the opposite way — they may become laser-focused on one task while forgetting about everything else.
People diagnosed with autism also express symptoms of ADHD. This can lead to disruptions in a person’s ability to focus and ignore distraction triggers. Since CBD promotes the efficient use of serotonin, users may find it eases their anxiety. Lower anxiety leads to better focus.
CBD Oil for Autism: Best Brands and Products
For new customers, it can be difficult to find a trustworthy source of CBD among so many different brands. CBD is a booming market, so it’s no wonder that everybody wants to get their fair share of the hemp cake.
However, the market is also largely unregulated and liberal about the manufacturing and labeling CBD products. Buying CBD oil online requires you to do your homework before you trust someone with your hard-earned money. Your research should include information about the source of the company’s hemp, their extraction method, and third-party testing practices.
Going through all of the above is challenging and time-consuming. That’s why we’ve put together a ranking of the best 5 brands offering CBD oil in 2022. We have selected these companies according to the quality criteria such as hemp sourcing, extraction method, third-party testing, and price-to-quality ratio.
1. Royal CBD (Best CBD Oil for Autism)
Get 15% off all Royal CBD products. Use code “CFAH” at checkout.
|Potency||250 mg – 2500 mg|
|Available Flavors||Natural, Berry, Mint, Vanilla|
|CBD per serving||8.3 mg – 83.3 mg|
Why Royal CBD is the Best CBD Oil for Autism:
Based in Nevada, Royal CBD is a premium brand that started out in 2017 as a small craft company. Today, Royal CBD makes big headlines in the media as one of the industry’s top CBD sellers.
Royal CBD makes full-spectrum CBD oil that comes from organic hemp and is extracted using CO2 in its supercritical state. The brand’s products meet the highest quality and purity standards, confirmed by Certificates of Analysis from an independent laboratory.
The Royal CBD oil comes in 4 concentrations, including 250 mg, 500 mg, 1000 mg, and 2500 mg. The strongest bottle contains a massive dose of 83.3 mg per milliliter, which is a great potency for anxiety and restlessness in people with autism. The collection of Royal CBD products also include full-spectrum softgels, THC-free gummies, and organic topicals.
- Made from locally grown organic hemp
- Extracted with supercritical CO2
- Infused with full-spectrum CBD
- Available in 4 strengths and flavors
- Up to 2500 mg of CBD per bottle
- 3rd-party tested for potency and purity
- Great natural flavor
- Not available in local CBD stores (this may soon change)
- The brand doesn’t offer CBD vapes
2. Gold Bee (Best Organic)
|Potency||300 – 1200 mg|
|Available Flavors||Natural, Honey|
|CBD per serving||8.3 mg – 33.3 mg|
About Gold Bee
The runner up in our ranking of the best CBD oils for autism, Gold Bee is another brand with roots in Nevada. This company offers premium extracts from organic hemp infused with its signature honey flavor, which is both tasty and natural. Staying true to their mission statement, the guys at Gold Bee does a great job at destigmatizing hemp by combining high-quality products with providing education to their customers.
Gold Bee has partnered with local growers from Colorado to create its own blend of CBD-rich strains, which their extract with supercritical CO2 to achieve pure and potent extracts that retain the phytochemical profile of the original hemp plant.
I only wish Gold Bee had at least one high-potency option for its CBD oils. I admire the quality and the natural honey flavor, but the strongest bottle packs slightly over 30 mg/mL, which may be cost-prohibitive for users who need higher doses in their routine.
Gold Bee also sells 25 mg CBD gummies and softgel capsules that carry 40 mg CBD per count.
- Sourced from US-grown organic hemp
- Contains full-spectrum CBD
- Up to 33 mg CBD/mL
- Great potency range for beginners
- Third-party tested for potency and purity
- Great honey flavor
- No high-strength CBD oils
3. CBDPure (Top Transparency)
|Potency||100 – 1000 mg|
|CBD per serving||3.3 – 33 mg/mL|
The third place on the list belongs to one of the most renowned brands in the industry. CBDPure specializes in selling low-potency oils from organic hemp, although the company has recently added a 1000 mg option to their lineup.
Just like the two above brands, CBDPure uses US-grown hemp and produces its CBD oil with CO2 in a supercritical state, ensuring high purity. This CBD oil contains the full-spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes — including 0.3% THC — so you’re getting the entourage effect from other hemp compounds. The entourage effect refers to the synergy achieved by these compounds, which allows lower doses of CBD oil to remain effective, especially when it comes to problems like anxiety or inflammation.
On top of that, CBDPure has a 90-day return policy, so if you’re not satisfied with the results, you can return your product for a full refund.
- Sourced from organic Colorado-grown hemp
- Extracted with supercritical CO2
- Lab-tested for potency and purity
- 90-day return policy
- Only two forms of CBD available
- Low potency
- Premium pricing
4. Hemp Bombs (Best CBD Isolate)
|Potency||125 – 4000 mg|
|Available Flavors||Natural, Acai Berry, Orange Creamsicle, Peppermint, Watermelon|
|CBD per serving||4 – 133 mg/mL|
About Hemp Bombs
Hemp Bombs is your best bet when it comes to THC-free CBD oil. This company manufactures broad-spectrum and isolate-based extracts in a variety of different forms, from traditional CBD oil to capsules, gummies, vapes, and products like beard oil or tattoo aftercare.
Hemp Bombs is a good choice for people who use very high doses of CBD to manage the symptoms of autism. The strongest version of Hemp Bombs CBD oil contains 4000 mg of total CBD, which translates to 133 mg of CBD per milliliter. Even if you don’t need such large amounts of CBD in your regime, you can get a few months’ worths of supply with this potency.
However, due to the lack of THC in its broad-spectrum extracts and with no terpenes or trace cannabinoids in the isolate, you won’t be getting the synergy from the entourage effect. This means that you may eventually need to take more CBD.
- Sourced from organic hemp
- Extracted with CO2
- 0% THC
- Available as broad-spectrum or isolate
- Third-party tested for CBD and contaminants
- Up to 4000 mg of CBD per bottle
- 5 strengths to choose from
- Infused with synthetic flavorings
- No “entourage effect” from other cannabinoids and terpenes
- Most people don’t need such high doses of CBD oil in their routine
5. CBDistillery (Most Affordable)
|Potency||250 – 5000 mg|
|Potency||8.3 – 166 mg/mL|
We’re going to close our list of the best CBD oils for autism with another pioneering company. CBDistillery has been selling CBD extracts as one of the first U.S. companies and is now one of the largest brands in North America. Only a few companies can match their selections of CBD products.
CBDistillery offers its CBD oil in two types: full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD; the broad-spectrum option is labeled as “pure oil” and has been purged of THC. Broad-spectrum CBD still contains minor non-psychoactive cannabinoids as well as terpenes, so you’re getting some entourage effect without taking any THC in your product.
Whether you’re a new customer or experienced user, you certainly won’t run out of options with CBDistillery, as the brand covers the entire concentration range for CBD oils. They start at 250 mg and contain up to 5000 mg of CBD per bottle.
However, CBDistillery doesn’t use organic hemp, so if the source of hemp is your top priority, you may want to consider other companies from our list.
What is CBD?
According to WebMD, CBD is “a chemical in the cannabis Sativa plant, also known as marijuana or hemp.” It’s one of the two most abundant compounds in cannabis plants, next to THC, which is the cannabinoid that makes marijuana users feel high.
CBD doesn’t have intoxicating properties. It can actually counter the mind-altering effects of CBD by inhibiting the surface area on cells to which THC tries to bind. The World Health Organization issued a report on CBD in 2017, classifying cannabidiol as a safe substance with no risk of abuse or dependence.
The majority of CBD oils are sourced from hemp plants, which contain less than 0.3% THC and are federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill.
CBD comes in many different forms; CBD oil is the most common product. You can take it by:
- Placing a few drops under your tongue for up to 60 seconds before swallowing.
- Applying it topically to the skin to relieve trouble spots on the body.
- Infusing it into food and drinks
Edibles are another common category of CBD products. These are usually available in the form of gummies.
There are also CBD capsules, concentrates, and E-liquids. Each of these products offers a different route of administration and unique benefits.
Is CBD Legal?
The laws surrounding cannabis and its compounds are complicated in the USA. Whether CBD oil is legal in your state depends on how it is sourced.
As mentioned earlier, CBD can be obtained from hemp and marijuana. The compound itself remains the same no matter the source, but the chemical makeup of hemp-derived and marijuana-derived extracts is different
CBD oil from marijuana will typically contain a significant amount of THC and can get the user high. Marijuana and its derivatives are legal in states that have legalized recreational marijuana or, at least, have a medical marijuana program for patients.
Currently, 11 states allow marijuana for recreational use, while 33 states run a medical program.
Hemp-derived CBD oil is legal in all 50 states. In 2018, the Federal government legalized hemp by removing it from the list of controlled substances. It’s now legal to grow hemp for any use, including clothes, food, paper, fuel, and health supplements such as CBD oil. As long as the product contains less than 0.3% THC, it is legal under federal law.
You can find hemp-derived CBD products over the counter in health outlets, pharmacies, vape stores, dispensaries, and online stores.
High-quality CBD oil can greatly improve one’s daily life. Recently, researchers have been investigating the potential use of CBD for autism.
The next section explains the possible benefits of CBD for autistic patients.
Is CBD Oil Safe for Autism? A Look at the Potential Side Effects of CBD
CBD has been acknowledged as a safe compound not only by the WHO but also by the Harvard Medical School, which only talks about a few side effects.
Possible adverse effects of taking CBD oil include:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
- A temporary drop in blood pressure
On top of that, CBD interacts with a great number of prescription and non-prescription pharmaceuticals. It can also increase levels of Coumadin or Warfarin, two popular blood thinners, so if you’re on these medications and are worried about possible interactions, make sure to consult your doctor. Doing so will help you exclude potential contraindications and safely incorporate CBD into your routine.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil and Autism
Although we still need more research on CBD and autism to draw conclusions, current findings support the theory that CBD may benefit autistic patients, especially in terms of the management of side symptoms like restlessness, attention deficits, and anxiety disorders.
If you want to use CBD to ease the symptoms of autism, ask your doctor about including CBD oil in your regime. Your best bet is to visit a holistic physician who will have knowledge and experience in this subject because many doctors are still conservative about cannabis and other natural substances due to various biases.
Above all, make sure that you always purchase CBD from a reputable supplier that sells organic and lab-tested products. You can do your own digging or use our recommendations to get yourself started with no worries about the quality of your CBD oil.
Do you know someone who’s using CBD oil for autism symptoms? Does CBD help control them?
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.
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