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Children with autism face unimaginable challenges that can affect their health, cognition, and quality of life. These challenges can also cause mounting stress for family members who take on the role of caregivers. Current autism medications provide limited relief and can cause serious side effects that add to the list of problems. As parents seek safer alternatives, many are turning to cannabis for help.

Today, we have data to substantiate the use of cannabis for autism, thanks to Tikun Olam Israel’s groundbreaking study. The recent Tikun research reveals that relief for children with autism may come in the form of high-CBD, low-THC medical cannabis oil.

THE PROBLEM

In the last three decades, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls and research indicates that genetics play a large role. Children with autism often face intellectual disability, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, and seizures. They can suffer from depression and engage in self-injurious behaviors such as head-banging and skin-scratching.

Children with autism are treated with behavioral intervention, occupational therapies, and various medications to help them live as independently as possible. Risperidone and aripiprazole are the only medications approved to directly treat autism-related issues. Aside from risperidone and aripiprazole, children with ASD also take antiepileptics, anti-depressants, and sedatives to help alleviate rage, restlessness, and seizures. While medical intervention can help, pharmaceuticals can also yield unwanted side effects that cause many families to seek cannabis for relief.

MEDICAL CANNABIS: A SOLUTION

Confusing legal status has made cannabis research in the US a challenging task. In contrast, Israel began approving medical cannabis in 2007 and the team of scientists at Tikun Olam Israel has been in the lab ever since.

In 2018, Tikun Olam’s observational study revealed that high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil can drastically improve autism symptoms. Tikun surveyed the parents of 188 autism patients receiving its high-CBD Avidekel cannabis strain. In January 2019, Nature’s Scientific Reports published promising results.

Key Patient Improvements at Six Months:

  • 90% of patients showed mild to major symptom relief
  • 84% reported a reduction in ASD behavioral issues
  • 2X the number of parents reported a “good” quality of life (vs at intake)

CANNABIS STUDY METHODS

Tikun Olam’s study is one of the first and largest surrounding the efficacy of medical cannabis therapy for autism. The study also broke new ground by tracking specific dosages for each patient and observing the safety profile and effectiveness of targeted relief.

Prior to treatment, Tikun collected self-reported data from parents related to their children’s quality of life, symptoms, mood, and independence. Physicians then prescribed Avidekel, Tikun’s high CBD-to-THC (20:1) oil starting at three drops per day. After finding the optimal dose, patients received between 1 and 20 drops of Avidekel, three times per day.

Avidekel was chosen for the study because the high CBD content can provide a significant dose of therapeutic, anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects, while the low THC content means there is little to no intoxicating effect. Doctors worked closely with parents to determine the best dose and delivery for each child’s particular needs.

After six months, 155 patients remained in active treatment and 93 parents completed the follow-up survey. The reported benefits were profound.

Autism Symptom Relief

Parents first completed a pre-treatment survey, which asked to rate their child’s ASD conditions across emotional, physical, and behavioral markers. Of the parents who marked “yes” to the conditions below, the vast majority noted
improvements at the end of the six-month period.

Top ASD Symptoms

  • 84.6% reported decrease or disappearance of seizures
  • 89.8% reported reduction in restlessness
  • 89% reported reduction in rage attacks
  • 100% reported reduction in depression

Other ASD Symptoms

  • 88.8% reported improvement in anxiety
  • 83.8% reported a lower level of agitation
  • 80% reported significantly less tics
  • 62.5% reported improved digestive support

Parents also noted a substantial improvement in the quality of life markers. At intake, only 31% of parents indicated that their child experienced “good” quality of life. At the end of the 6-month study period, the rate jumped to 66.8%. That’s double!

Sleep Quality

  • 3.3% at intake vs 24.7% after 6 months

Concentration

  • 0% at intake vs 14% after 6 months

Positive Mood

  • 42% at intake vs 63.5% after 6 months

Dress & Shower Independently

  • 26.4% at intake vs 42.9% after 6 months

MEDICATION USE

Of the 93 patients, 67 children were on chronic medications prior to cannabis treatment. At the end of the 6-month period, 34.3% of patients decreased overall medication use and 20% stopped taking antipsychotics completely. For these patients, medical cannabis relieved symptoms safely, naturally, and effectively.

LIMITED SIDE EFFECTS

Out of the 188 patients who participated in the study, only 23 parents reported at least one undesirable effect. These effects were mild and included dry mouth, sleepiness, lack of appetite, and restlessness. Three parents reported a mild psychoactive effect. Of those 23 parents who reported an undesirable effect, 41% reported intentions to return to cannabis treatment.

HOW CANNABIS WORKS FOR AUTISM

The exact mechanism of action is unknown, but research indicates that cannabis may work by regulating imbalanced chemical signaling in children with autism. By balancing these signals, cannabis can improve the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS) function. The ECS is a vital network for lasting health by helping the body maintain homeostasis.

Tikun’s observational study indicates that cannabis is a well-tolerated, safe, and effective option to relieve ASD symptoms. Double-blind clinical studies featuring a control group are needed to confirm direct causality, but Tikun’s study is a huge step in the direction of hope for children with autism.

HOPE FOR AUTISM RELIEF

Tikun Olam’s Avidekel study is a powerful tool for parents to advocate on behalf of their children’s long-term wellness. Cannabis is safe when consumed properly and can be a viable, holistic treatment option. If you or someone you know is affected by autism, find a trusted cannabis physician and start the conversation. Work closely with your physician to test the high CBD cannabis strain and delivery method that best suits your child’s needs.