Does CBD Help Kids With Autism? New Clinical Trial Aims to Find Out

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A dose of cannabidiol (CBD) extract is measured. (JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)

A new clinical trial will attempt to determine how certain chemical compounds in marijuana might help children with autism. The compound in question is cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD.

Cannabis is largely made up of two chemicals: tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, and CBD. When consumed, THC is thought to be responsible for the euphoric high associated with marijuana use, while CBD provides a calming sensation.

Some studies have found that CBD may be useful in lowering anxiety and helping children with epilepsy.

Now, the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the UC San Diego School of Medicine aims to determine if marijuana could be useful in curbing challenging behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

For example, there are oppositional behaviors that can turn a common request, like washing the dishes, into a screaming match.


Dr. Igor Grant, director of CMCR, said that while some parents of autistic children already use CBD as a calming aid, this study could help back up anecdotal evidence with hard science.

“Some people have thought that anxiety may play a role in this, in the autistic child,” said Grant. “We don’t know that for sure. And to that extent, CBD might affect that anxiety channel, or other kind of chemical properties in the brain.”

While details of the clinical trial are still being ironed out, it’s thought that the study will focus on around 30 school-age children, ages 6-12.

The trial would split the children into two groups, with one half given CBD and the other half placebos. Then, after a period of weeks, the groups would switch. This would allow the scientists to measure the CBD effect against the child’s own behavioral patterns.

President of the Autism Society San Diego Amy Munera said she’s excited about the possibilities of the trial, but encourages parents to consult with their pediatrician before introducing any new treatments.

Pending a green light from state and federal agencies, the clinical trial should begin in early 2019.