What Does Research Say About CBD Oil for Asperger Syndrome?

  • Studies indicate that CBD-rich cannabis oil may serve as a legitimate treatment for autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger syndrome.
  • Beyond clinical trials, researchers have uncovered that a significant percentage of children with Asperger syndrome have been successfully treated with CBD-rich oil.
  • For parents who feel they have exhausted all Asperger syndrome treatment options without success, a positive outcome with cannabis oil can feel remarkable.
  • Many expert opinions appear to align with the stories that parents are conveying regarding CBD or CBD-rich cannabis oil as a treatment for Asperger syndrome.
  • More in-depth studies with large sample sizes are needed to provide scientific proof on the effects of CBD and cannabis oil on Asperger syndrome.

Often regarded as a high-functioning form of autism, Asperger syndrome is part of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) group. Typical symptoms of Asperger syndrome include delayed language development and social anxiety or disconnection. 

Prescription medications for ASD, most notably risperidone, often come with serious side effects that affect the body, mind, and behavior, sometimes even precipitating violent outbursts. Thus, there is a growing need in the ASD community for a functional treatment option without such adverse effects. 

Could full-spectrum cannabis oil, derived from cannabidiol (CBD)-rich cultivars, utilizing the cannabinoid-rich flowers to maintain beneficial terpenes during the extraction process, be a viable treatment option for patients with Asperger syndrome and their caregivers? It turns out, this type of CBD-rich cannabis oil is showing some promise.

Research Overview 

Whole-plant CBD oil has demonstrated effectiveness in treating numerous incurable conditions. Among them are epilepsy, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Some studies have indicated that CBD oil may also serve as a legitimate treatment for ASD, including Asperger syndrome. 

Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

The Studies

One study published in 2013 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders documented that children with autistic disorders have an increased number of cannabinoid receptors on their circulating white blood cells, suggesting an imbalance in their endocannabinoid systems (ECSs). Measuring endocannabinoid levels has been difficult because these compounds are made on-demand when needed and then broken down as soon as they are used.  

Another study, by researchers from Stanford University in California and published in Molecular Autism in 2018, documented that children with autism have lower levels of anandamide compared with children not diagnosed with autism. Anandamide is one of the brain’s prominent inner cannabinoids, and it works to balance the neurotransmitter messages that are sent between cells. Without this compound, cells are sending inappropriate or overwhelming messages. This is the basis of treating autism with cannabis medicine, as both of the preceding studies demonstrate an endocannabinoid deficiency in children with ASD.

Further, a 2018 Israeli study examined the effects of oral CBD and THC on 60 children with autism. Researchers reported strong improvement in behavioral outbreaks of 61 percent of the children following the treatment. However, fewer than half of the children experienced notable improvements in communication and anxiety. In either case, the sample size was limited, only one variety of cannabis was trialed, and the results may not offer definitive answers. The scientists were nonetheless encouraged by the study and are now conducting a clinical trial with 120 children. 

Patient Perspectives

Beyond clinical trials, researchers have uncovered that a significant percentage of children with Asperger syndrome and other ASD diagnoses have been successfully treated with CBD-rich cannabis oil. Survey results published in 2019 in Remedy Review revealed that more than 40% of parents have tried some type of CBD for their children with ASD. 

The most popular methods of administering CBD oil were via water (42.8%) and by inserting drops directly into the mouth (32.4%). The most common patient benefits reported by those surveyed were improved mood (56%), less anxiety (53%), and stress relief (45%). Finally, the parents whose children used CBD were nearly 55% more likely to rate the treatments as moderately or extremely effective compared to those using prescription medications. 

For parents who feel they have exhausted all treatment options without success, a positive outcome with cannabis oil can seem remarkable. Rachel Anderson, whose son has been diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy and ASD, told Healthline in 2019, “we had tried six or seven pharmaceutical drugs. None of them worked, or if they did, they had serious side effects that made life miserable for all of us.” 

Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Since Anderson’s son turned 8 years old, she has been treating him with CBD oil which she claims has reduced his seizures while addressing his ASD symptoms. She said, “My son is horribly anxious, but when we give him his CBD, he’s cool as a cucumber.”

What the Experts Say 

Many expert opinions appear to align with the stories that parents are conveying. Dr. Bernard Rimland, who died in 2006, was the director of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego and wrote extensively about the potential of medical marijuana as a treatment for autism and associated disorders as editor of Autism Research Review International.

Today, Rimland’s ideas are making progress. Other medical practitioners at the Autism Research Institute agreed with Rimland, and cannabis is listed as a treatment for ASD on the institute’s website. Indeed, the notion of using CBD oil and other cannabis treatments for Asperger syndrome is growing in the autism community. In 2018, Autism Speaks hosted the first scientific conference on ASD and cannabis. Held in New York City, the conference addressed the need for more research into the effects of cannabis on ASD. 

“As more states legalize cannabis, we know that a growing number of families affected by autism are considering these products to relieve severe behavioral symptoms, seizures and other challenging autism-related conditions,” said Thomas Frazier, Ph.D., chief science officer for Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy organization for autism spectrum disorders.  “But while anecdotal reports of benefit are common, we lack sufficient scientific evidence on effectiveness and risks.”

The Bottom Line

There is abundant anecdotal evidence to indicate that CBD-rich cannabis oil is an effective treatment option for Asperger syndrome and other forms of autism, but more in-depth studies with large sample sizes are needed to establish scientific proof.