Intriguingly, one of our secondary outcomes, the SRS-2, provided preliminary evidence that cannabinoid treatment might improve core symptoms of ASD (Table 4). This finding could be of high importance if confirmed in future studies, as studies exploring pharmacological interventions for the ASD core symptoms are scarce.
Future studies should consider recruiting participants within narrower ranges of age and functional levels, assess the long-term tolerability and safety of cannabinoid treatments, and identify target populations within the autism spectrum that might benefit most from these treatments.
Exploratory analyses: possible moderators of treatment effects
Screening, randomization and attrition are shown in Fig. 2 and participant characteristics are provided in Table 2. Fifty participants were randomly assigned to each of the 3 treatments in Period-1 and 44 per group completed the study (12% overall attrition).
Zamberletti E, Gabaglio M, Parolaro D. The endocannabinoid system and autism spectrum disorders: insights from animal models. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(9):1916.
Aran A, Eylon M, Harel M, Polianski L, Nemirovski A, Tepper S, et al. Lower circulating endocannabinoid levels in children with autism spectrum disorder. Mol Autism. 2019;10:2.
The researcher led the world’s first study of cannabis for autism. And earlier this year he published results from a study of CBD for behavioural problems in autistic children.
Based at the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, in Jerusalem, the research on 60 children aged five to 18 found behavioural problems were “much improved” in 61 per cent of cases.
World’s first study of cannabis for autism
Dr Adi Aran, the Israeli researcher looking at the use of cannabis for autism
In June the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of CBD-based medicine Epidiolex to treat the two rare epilepsies Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Epilepsy and autism
Epilepsy and autism have close links. Experts estimate between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of people with epilepsy also have autism.
Anecdotal evidence of successful cannabis treatment in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are accumulating but clinical studies are lacking. This retrospective study assessed tolerability and efficacy of cannabidiol-rich cannabis, in 60 children with ASD and severe behavioral problems (age = 11.8 ± 3.5, range 5.0-17.5; 77% low functioning; 83% boys). Efficacy was assessed using the Caregiver Global Impression of Change scale. Adverse events included sleep disturbances (14%) irritability (9%) and loss of appetite (9%). One girl who used higher tetrahydrocannabinol had a transient serious psychotic event which required treatment with an antipsychotic. Following the cannabis treatment, behavioral outbreaks were much improved or very much improved in 61% of patients. This preliminary study supports feasibility of CBD-based cannabis trials in children with ASD.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Cannabidiol; Disruptive behavior; Medical cannabis; Medical marijuana.