CBD Oil and Autism: What Parents Need to Know

CBD oil is becoming an increasingly popular treatment option for a variety of health conditions—including autism. But is CBD oil a safe autism treatment for kids?

top child modeling agency
Photo: Bess-Hamiti/Pixabay

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that causes differences in the brain and affects one in 44 American children. Kids with ADS might communicate, learn, and behave differently from kids without ADS, and they may need support systems in place to help meet their learning, physical, and emotional needs.

There have been many advances in understanding ASD, but researchers still don't know specifically what causes it. There's also no cure for autism; however, various interventions (like occupational and speech therapies) can lessen the severity of symptoms. One controversial treatment option is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a natural substance extracted from cannabis. Here is what parents need to know about using CBD oil therapy for kids with ASD.

What is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is made from the hemp plant, which is related to, but quite the same thing as, the cannabis plant. Although they both belong to the same plant species, hemp doesn't have the mind-altering chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that cannabis plants are famous for, making CBD oil safe to use since it cannot make you intoxicated or "high."

CBD has become widely available in health food stores and medical marijuana dispensaries across the country, usually in liquid, cream, or gel capsule form, to treat various health issues, including chronic pain, anxiety, ADHD, gastrointestinal illness, insomnia, cancer, and more. While it has captured the public's adoration, researchers are quickly catching up to compare science to anecdotal stories about the therapeutic application of CBD.

In preliminary studies, CBD oil has been shown to improve various physical and mental health conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, ADHD, gastrointestinal illness, insomnia, cancer, and more. And in one Israeli study of 60 children published in Neurology, a group of researchers found that CBD oil reduced autism-induced behavioral, communication, and anxiety problems; however, there were some side effects, such as sleep disturbances, irritability, and appetite issues. Still, the study was enough to trigger a larger study to answer some big questions about the safety and effectiveness of CBD oil as a therapeutic tool for kids with ASD.

Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA

"As parents, we give ourselves the daunting task of fixing everything. When your child is diagnosed with a developmental disorder like autism, the desire to fix things is even more exaggerated."

— Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA

How Safe and Effective is CBD Oil for Kids With ASD?

As grand as the claims about been around what CBD oil can do, there are still questions about CBD's safety and effectiveness. Still, parents across the country have hopped on these findings and started giving CBD oil to their children. Many claim CDB oil helps regulate emotions, promotes better sleep, and controls autism symptoms.

As with every new medical breakthrough, CBD oil isn't without drawbacks. According to Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, senior director of the Autism Center at the Child Mind Institute, there's a lack of information about using CBD for behavioral disorders, especially in young children. That's why Silverman and many other health professionals suggest parents learn the facts before stocking up on CBD oil.

"As parents, we give ourselves the daunting task of fixing everything. When your child is diagnosed with a developmental disorder like autism, the desire to fix things is even more exaggerated," she says. "Treatment for autism takes time. Parents see CBD oil as this option that can address some of the needs in a way nothing else can."

But despite how tempting CBD oil may be as an autism treatment, Silverman says it's "not an intervention with an evidence base." A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that CBD oil effectively treated certain ASD symptoms in young children, but the benefit was temporary, and the symptoms returned once the young children began puberty. Again, researchers noted that more studies need to be done.

Drawbacks parents should consider

Despite some great early results of CBD's effectiveness, no study has shown that CBD oil is a cure-all. It's also not an FDA-approved method for treating autism. Here are a few more issues surrounding the treatment of autism with CBD oil:

  • No clinical trial has analyzed the effects of treating CBD oil with autism, so doctors aren't sure about safety. It’s also unclear exactly how CBD is absorbed into the body.
  • You can't know the exact amount of CBD in your oil. The concentration of ingredients may differ in each batch, says Silverman.
  • According to the Child Mind Institute, CBD oil products aren’t lab-tested in every state, so they could potentially contain THC or other unknown items.
  • Studies have shown that CBD oil is known to interact with other medications.
  • Side effects, like drowsiness and dry mouth, may be possible.

Some parents may also wonder about the legal issues regarding CBD oil. Some states allow CBD oil as long as it's derived from hemp, but not from marijuana. Other states outlaw CBD altogether, and some permit it for certain uses. Research your own state's legislation for more details.

So what's the bottom line? If you're considering treating your child's autism with CBD oil, thoroughly research the positives and negatives. Talk to your child's doctor—or someone well-educated in using CBD oil for medical purposes. And when it comes to choosing products, try finding out how much THC it contains. It's always best to be an informed consumer when making decisions regarding your child's health.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles