Scientific studies have shown that medicinal cannabis can help relieve symptoms for a number of health conditions, from epilepsy to depression to chronic pain. Now, a study published in Scientific Reports is adding autism to the list.
Technically, medicinal cannabis describes any type of cannabis or cannabis-derived product prescribed for health reasons, but it is often taken in the form of cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil. In this case, 188 under-18s (mean age: 12.9 ± 7.0 years) on the autistic spectrum were treated with medicinal cannabis for six months between 2015 and 2017, the majority using cannabis oil that was 30 percent CBD and 1.5 percent THC.
At the end of the six months, only 15 percent of patients reported no or little change in symptoms. Around 30 percent reported significant improvements and 53.7 percent reported moderate improvements.
"Overall, more than 80 percent of the parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their child," article co-author Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, from BGU-Soroka Clinical Cannabis Research Institute, said in a statement.
In terms of a good quality of life, 66.8 percent of participants responded in the affirmative post-treatment, compared to 31.3 percent pre-treatment. Meanwhile, 42 percent of parents reported a positive mood before treatment and 63.5 percent reported positive mood after treatment.
There was also a noticeable improvement in the participants' ability to dress and shower independently following the treatment. A little over a quarter (26.4 percent) reported no difficulty beforehand, but 42.9 percent noticed an improvement afterwards.
Meanwhile, good sleep jumped from 3.3 percent before treatment to 24.7 percent during active treatment and concentration improved from 0 percent before treatment to 14 percent during active treatment.
Roughly one in 59 children sit somewhere on the autism spectrum, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so this study is likely to be interesting news to both them and their parents. More work needs to be done to better understand the effect of the drug on children with ASD, but the results so far have been promising.
Not only has the treatment been effective in relieving some of the symptoms of ASD, but there also seems to be few side effects and those that do exist are relatively modest. For example, 1.6 percent reported sleepiness, 1.6 percent reported the bad taste and smell of the oil, 0.8 percent reported restlessness, 0.8 percent reported reflux, and 0.8 percent reported lack of appetite.
"While this study suggests that cannabis treatment is safe and can improve ASD symptoms and improve ASD patients' quality of life, we believe that double-blind placebo-controlled trials are crucial for a better understanding of the cannabis effect on ASD patients," co-author Dr Victor Novac of the BGU-Soroka Clinical Cannabis Research Institute.