Current pharmacotherapies for disruptive behaviors among those with autism are relatively ineffective. Now though, researchers from Israel have found that plant-derived cannabinoids may effectively mitigate disruptive behavior in up to 50% of young people with autism.
For the study, the researchers recruited 150 people aged between 5 and 21 with autism. Each received either a ‘whole-plant cannabis extract’ containing both CBD and THC at 20:1 or a placebo for 12 weeks. After this initial period, participants underwent a 4-week washout before a secondary 12-week assessment to further examine tolerability.
All in all, the researchers found that cannabinoids resulted in reductions in disruptive behavior (as measured by the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale) compared to those on the placebo. In total, 49% of participants were noted to have had 'much or very much improved' behavior while on plant extracts, whereas the same was true for just 21% on the placebo.
Cannabis was also associated with a reduction in body mass index among overweight participants. This was of particular interest to the researchers as antipsychotics (currently used to treat disruptive behaviors among those with autism) are linked to substantial weight gain.
Meanwhile, cannabis usage was not related to any severe or serious adverse events. However, common minor side effects included 28% of participants reporting drowsiness and 25% a reduced appetite.
While promising findings, the researchers say that further studies are needed before conclusions can be made. In particular, they note that more robust studies should include data on the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of cannabinoids from a patient cohort with a broader range of ages and functional levels.
Nevertheless, the results are consistent with several prior observational trials, which report the efficacy of plant-derived cannabinoids in mitigating multiple symptoms of autism, such as anxiety, rage attacks, and hyperactivity.