In Turkey and on CNN, an Exploration on CBD's Effects on Autism
Studies show promise of the benefits CBD has to offer.
For those raising children on the autistic spectrum, managing the numerous disabling symptoms that can come with it often post great challenges. Aggression and self-harm are perhaps the most extreme and troublesome behaviors exhibited, but poor or nonexistent communication skills, repetitive behavioral habits. and anti-sociability are also concerns. Several studies have examined how CBD-rich cannabis extracts could aid in curbing these habits and easing the burden on patient caregivers. Before 2021 ended, both a scientific study examining 33 patients at the Pediatrics Clinic of Neurology in Istanbul and the latest installation of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Weed documentary series on CNN explored what we know so far about CBD treatments for autism. Both Gupta’s special and the Istanbul study surveyed young people on the front lines of this treatment.
And the results? So far, they’re highly encouraging. Those who remember Dr. Gupta’s groundbreaking special, when he chronicled Dravet’s Syndrome sufferer Charlotte Figi’s dramatically positive reaction to a CBD-rich cannabis tincture, will no doubt be similarly inspired by the special’s focus on Ezra Fouquette, who participated in a clinical trial at UC-San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. As for the Istanbul paper, published in the Journal of Cannabis Research, the researchers found that “using lower doses of CBD and trace THC seems to be promising in managing behavioral problems associated with autism. In addition, this treatment could be effective in managing [its] core symptoms and cognitive functions.”
TAMPING DOWN THE PROBLEMS
The study conducted at Istanbul involved 33 patients, all presenting either mild or severe symptoms associated with autism. Each was given CBD tinctures meted out by body weight of 0.7 mg/kg on average for an average of six months. While the tincture was full-spectrum, there were only trace amounts of THC in the solutions; like the US, Turkey does allow up to 0.3% in their products. Parents were asked before and after treatment how well the CBD treatments worked for their children. The researchers found that
A decrease in behavioral problems was reported in 10 patients (32.2%), an increase in expressive language was reported in 7 patients (22.5%), improved cognition was reported in 4 patients (12.9%), an increase in social interaction was reported in 3 patients (9.6%), and a decrease in stereotypes was reported in 1 patient (3.2%). The parents reported improvement in cognition in patients who adhered to CBD-enriched cannabis treatment for over two years.
The paper also reviews several other studies examining the effects of high-CBD cannabis medications for autistic patients. One of them found that a whopping 61% of the children who underwent the treatment showed “considerable improvement in behavioral problems, with anxiety and social problems ameliorated in 39% and 47% of those who took two varying concentrations of the cannabis medicine. Another found that rage attacks and self-harm decreased by 67.6%. While not every patient benefited from the treatments, the researchers couldn’t help but reiterate CBD’s promise, while urging caution among physicians in working with it until more studies have been conducted.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE DATA
Since Sanjay Gupta’s pioneering Weed documentary turbocharged the CBD industry in 2013, CNN has continued to use Gupta to examine some of the more promising developments in medical cannabis. On December 22nd, he looked into cannabis and autism.
A supplementary piece on the special focused on Ezra Fouquette, who was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) at 22 months. As parents of autistic patients know, there are no medications specifically tailored for handling its symptoms, which in Ezra’s case manifested in aggression against his mother. A few weeks after starting the clinical trial, Ezra one day started to sing. Prior to this moment, Ezra had been entirely nonverbal, so this was seen by his parents as a breakthrough moment. Dr. Doris Trauner of UC-San Diego remarks that Ezra’s story is not unique. "Children whose aggressive behavior was daily, it's gone away. I mean, gone away. ... Children whose self-injurious behavior is better, and they're to the point where the calluses on their wrists are starting to heal. A lot of the kids are more social."
Similar to the Istanbul researchers, Trauner advises against reading too much into these anecdotes, citing liver issues associated with CBD and the variable quality of most CBD preparations, amongst other issues. But it’s enough to create some degree of hope that cannabis, or at least some form of it, can bring relief to families and caregivers of autistic children that truly do need more of it.