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.
Full-spectrum cannabis oil, derived from cannabidiol (CBD)-rich cultivars, utilizing the cannabinoid-rich flowers to maintain beneficial terpenes during the extraction process is showing some promise as a viable treatment option for patients with Asperger syndrome and their caregivers.
Whole-plant CBD oil has demonstrated potential for 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 treatment for ASD, including Asperger syndrome.
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 endocannabinoids, and it works to balance the neurotransmitter messages that are sent between cells. Without this compound, cells send inappropriate or overwhelming messages. This is the basis of treating autism with cannabis, as both of these 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 in 61% of the children following 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 tested, 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.
Beyond clinical trials, researchers have uncovered other evidence 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 of children with ASD have tried some type of CBD treatment.
The most popular methods of administering CBD oil were via water (43%) and by inserting drops directly into the mouth (32%). 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 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.”
Anderson claims the CBD oil has reduced her son's 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, a research and advocacy organization for autism spectrum disorders, hosted the first scientific conference on ASD and cannabis. Held in New York, 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. “But while anecdotal reports of benefit are common, we lack sufficient scientific evidence on effectiveness and risks.”
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.