Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders today. It affects one in 68 children in the U.S. — totaling nearly 1.5% of the population — and, surprisingly enough, there are currently only two medical prescriptions available for treatment. But one Israeli doctor is challenging the status quo with hopes of paving the way for a CBD cure to pediatric autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a complexly unique developmental disease that hinders a wide range of behavioral and cognitive functions. This debilitating disease can affect just about every aspect of a child’s life. From trouble communicating with others to a lack of fundamental social skills, those diagnosed have to deal with a multitude of symptoms on an everyday basis.
“High-functioning” autism is characterized as a more mild form with most children lacking an interest in making friends, feeling uncomfortable when touched, and having a difficult time maintaining eye contact. “Low-functioning” autism can be much more severe resulting in violent outbursts or harmful behavior.
The more intense form of autism results in repetitive, often harmful behavior like head-banging, rocking, or biting, and a hypersensitivity to certain sights and sounds that can quickly trigger tantrum-like meltdowns. Many suffer from extreme bouts of rage, with some never learning to speak, while others will only utter a few words by their teen years.
For a developmental disorder that is affecting such a high percentage of developed countries, there is no cure and just two prescription medicine options available: Risperidone (brand name Risperdal) and Aripiprazole (brand name Abilify). Both of these are antipsychotic drugs that are not always effective and carry some serious side effects for a developing child.
Why are doctors turning to CBD for autism?
While neurological disorders are often hard to treat, the fact that there are no real avenues of relief for autism children is simply unacceptable. And Dr. Adi Aran agreed.
Unlike in the U.S., Israel allows more research and legality of medical cannabis, including cannabidiol (CBD). In fact, Israel is one of just three countries, along with Canada and the Netherlands, to have a government-sponsored cannabis program.
Aran, who directs the pediatric neurology unit at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital, began an informal study in 2015 on the effects of medical cannabis for severe pediatric autism. His first inkling that CBD could be used to combat autism came from the anecdotal evidence that it can help with epileptic seizures.
Nearly 30% of those diagnosed also suffer from seizures, suggesting there can be a link between the two. CBD works directly with the body’s endocannabinoid system through a process known as modulation, which combats anxiety, depression, inflammation, and psychosis.
“We [in the medical community] saw children with epilepsy and autism really improve, not just in their epilepsy but also in their behavior,” said Aran. Most parents saw marked improvement in their children, with nearly half experiencing a reduction of core autism symptoms and nearly a third of the children started speaking for the first time or communicated nonverbally.
Can I use CBD to help autism?
Despite some of the potential breakthrough developments, more in-depth studies are necessary before CBD can be prescribed. Aran launched a double-blind study in 2017 that initially studied 150 new patients over a seven month period. The results will be available later this year.
The current results are undeniable, and America has quickly noticed the powerful potential. Dr. Eric Hollander, director of Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, announced last year that he would also run a independent study on medical cannabis in pediatric autism. This would be the very first study of its kind in the U.S.
Relief is still a ways away, as doctors estimate it will still be several years before any new autism drug would be available. Currently, only three states in the U.S. can legally prescribe cannabis to autistic children: Georgia, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Minnesota will join those states by July. Although it will inevitably be several years before CBD is formally approved, the time to change the stigma is now. “Giving marijuana to children is unthinkable, but CBD is not marijuana,” says Aran. “It’s not a drug. It’s a medication.”
Is CBD for autism gaining traction in the community?
Many cannabinoid advocates support the benefits of CBD as a therapeutic form of treatment for pediatric behavioral conditions. A recent study using a mammalian model with a gene mutation linked to autism described modified signaling to the central nervous system from the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which displayed positive results against autistic development.
Another case study involving a 6-year-old child with autism resulted in improvements in hyperactivity, lethargy, behavior, speech and irritability after daily administration of medicinal cannabinoids for six months. Case studies continue to pop up in which those who suffered severe symptoms are beginning to see new breakthroughs.
While there may never be a full cure, CBD has begun to show the signs of helping ease everyday life. All the symptoms of the disease may never go away but there is ample opportunity for those who suffer to find an all-natural healer that will make dealing with the disease a lot easier.
As time progresses, and more and more studies prove the benefits of CBD, doctors across the globe will surely recognize its properties. Doctors remain skeptical (and rightfully so) as studies are relatively new and the information that is being recorded has not been fine tuned. But that does not mean that CBD will not one day have the power to heal those that are so adversely affected by autism.
There is still plenty of hope today that a cure, or at least a helping hand, will be found through the power of Mother Nature.