Medical marijuana has been a hot topic for political debate in recent years, and now, concentrated CBD has also grown in popularity as an alternative to traditional medicines. It is a common misconception that smoking marijuana and using CBD are the same thing – they’re not, and we’ll explain how in this article. Both have medical benefits but different effects.
The stigmas surrounding cannabis and CBD has continued to affect medical research into its properties, but this hasn’t stopped people using it to soothe their conditions. CBD has proven to help with epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia – and even autism spectrum disorders.
Some people with autism use CBD oil or other forms of cannabidiol to help manage negative symptoms of the condition. But what is CBD, and how does it benefit those with autism?
What Is CBD?
WebMD defines cannabidiol (CBD) as “a chemical in the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana or hemp.” It is the second most abundant chemical in the cannabis genus of plants – the first being THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in cannabis, is what makes marijuana users feel “high” or “stoned.”
CBD, unlike THC, does not this feeling. It has antipsychotic effects. Researchers have found that CBD can offset or block the psychoactive effects of THC. For this reason and more, the World Health Organization has determined cannabidiol has a low potential for dependence or abuse.
You can consume cannabidiol in many different ways. One of the most common is the use of CBD oil, which can be taken by:
- Placing drop(s) under your tongue for up to 90 seconds before swallowing
- Putting drop(s) in food or drink (works well for children)
- Topically applying to the skin to relieve aches or pains
Another popular method for consuming cannabidiol is edibles. These can be bought in a variety of flavors and can also be a suitable method of delivering the compound to children.
There are also CBD oil e-liquids that adults can use to smoke with a vape pen.
Is It Legal?
There are different laws concerning the legality of cannabidiol across the USA. Whether CBD is legal should not be confused with cannabis legalization or medical marijuana laws – CBD is one distilled compound taken from the cannabis plant. It is not psychoactive and, therefore, different regulations exist surrounding its use.
Currently, in the USA, medical marijuana is legal in 31 of the 50 states. However, CBD oil derived from hemp is legal in all of them. There are two types of CBD oil: hemp-derived and marijuana-derived.
Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant mostly grown industrially to produce seeds and fiber. Hemp plants contain significantly less THC than marijuana plants – by law, they must contain no more than 0.03% THC. For this reason, CBD from hemp is regarded as less likely to have psychoactive properties and is federally legal. CBD from marijuana is not.
There have been studies exploring the use of medical marijuana for autistic children, but the ethical implications surrounding this continue. The laws around medical marijuana use for minors differ between states. However, there is no law preventing giving hemp-derived cannabidiol to children.
CBD Oil and Autism
Some people use CBD as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs because of its low price and ever-growing availability. People commonly use cannabidiol to relieve the following symptoms:
- Addictive behavior
- Mood disorders
- Sleep disorders
There have been multiple studies published on the use of CBD for children with autism. An anecdotal study from the Neurology Journal cited that behavioral outbursts improved in 61% of autistic children, in a study with 120 participants. Communication issues and anxiety were reduced by 47% and 39% respectively.
There is no drug, including cannabidiol, that could remove the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. These include sensory dysfunction, restricted and repetitive behavior, and difficulty with social communication. Cannabidiol has shown to alleviate symptoms related to autism, like anxiety, hyper-focus, and sleep disturbance. After all, autism does not need to be “cured” directly; instead, it may help autistic people who have symptoms that negatively impact their everyday lives.
Benefits of Using CBD Oil for Autism
Sleep Pattern Regulation
According to a study conducted in 2019 in the Permanente Journal, better sleep is a possible benefit of cannabidiol. The study showed that 48 out of 72 (66.7%) patients reported improved sleep within the first month of treatment while fluctuating through the rest of the test. Only three people in the study did not tolerate the CBD well.
The Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences reported that autistic children who have insomnia at a higher rate than neurotypical children. Falling asleep and staying asleep could be helped by using CBD oil.
The same study as above from the Permanente Journal found that 79.2% of its participants reported decreased anxiety, which remained reduced throughout the study period. Side effects were minimal, with a few reports of slight fatigue. The study also noted that people were more willing to receive this treatment compared to traditional psychiatric medication.
Anxiety is common among autistic adults and is an issue among autistic children and adolescents too. Changes to routine, unexpected events, and social situations can lead to feelings of anxiousness for those with autism. Using CBD oil to relieve anxiety can, in turn, help to improve other aspects of autism, such as selective mutism and physical tics.
Improving Focus and Attention
Autism affects the way that people with the condition pay attention to tasks. People with autism find it difficult to block out distractions, like talking, background noise or their thoughts. It can also work the other way – they can become laser-focused on a task and forget to do other things.
It’s common for those diagnosed with autism to also exhibit ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder further disrupts someone’s ability to focus on and ignore distractions.
It’s thought that using CBD can affect a person’s spectrum of attention, improving their concentration and focus. As CBD makes it easier for serotonin to impact the brain, users may find it relieves anxiety. Less anxiety means better focus.
Can CBD Be Harmful?
According to Harvard Medical School, CBD may cause irritability, nausea, and fatigue. It may also increase levels of Coumadin or Warfarin, a blood thinner – so it is not recommended to those using the medication. Besides these effects, most adults and children can safely consume CBD. Always check with a doctor to make sure CBD is right for you and that it will not negatively interact with any medications you use.
The only possibility of harm would be from contaminated CBD. As it is only available as a dietary supplement, there are fewer regulations on the product than there are with classified medications. The rules on CBD manufacturing vary from state to state, and there are few regulations on labeling and dosages. Each batch may differ in concentration. Sometimes there may even be higher trace amounts of THC within it. Therefore, you should consider all your options when buying CBD oil or gummies to use as a treatment.
Further research is needed to determine CBD’s full effects – regarding its use for autism and all other conditions. Current research supports the theory that CBD is beneficial, especially for autistic people with behavioral outbursts, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. It is also important to note that the studies conducted so far have only researched autistic children, not adults.
If you or a loved one have autism and want relief for its symptoms, talk to your doctor about CBD. It is best to look for a doctor who is knowledgeable on the subject, as some may hold biases against cannabis or restricted substances. Nevertheless, this emerging treatment should continue to prove helpful, as more research takes place.