CBD Could Awaken New Autism Breakthrough
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.
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, autism sufferers 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. This 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.
Yet, 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. 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 has much more lax laws on the 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 autism sufferers 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.
Despite some of the potential breakthrough developments, more in-depth studies are necessary before CBD can be prescribed. Aran launched another, double-blind study in 2017 that initially studied 150 new patients over a seven month period; results will be available later this year. The 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 for autism sufferers, as doctors estimate it will still be several years before any autism drug, from Israeli or American research, would be readily available. Currently, only three states in the U.S. can legally prescribe cannabis to autistic children: Georgia, Oregon, and Pennsylvania; Minnesota has a law that will take effect in July. Although it will inevitably be several years before CBD is available for autism alleviation, 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.”