Is Cannabidiol (CBD) effective in the treatment of Autism in children? Part I: the evidence.

Is Cannabidiol (CBD) effective in the treatment of Autism in children? Part I: the evidence.

by Dr David Feng

Most people have heard by now the therapeutic benefits of a medicine derived from cannabis call cannabidiol or CBD. Perhaps the most well-known indication for the use of CBD in children is for severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy. Cannabidiol appears to work particularly effectively in this clinical setting and is generally well-tolerated by patients.

There is also growing evidence in scientific literature (Russo 2011) that CBD may have a host of other therapeutic benefits, such as being:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Analgesic
  • Anti-nausea
  • Antipsychotic
  • Anti-anxiety.

However, the research is somewhat sparce when it comes to CBD in the treatment of children with Autism, a complex clinical condition that often produces a host of troubling symptoms such as aggression, hyperactivity, and anxiety.

One study conducted by Barchel et al. in 2019 prompted me into looking at this further for such patients presenting to our clinic. In this study, researchers in Israel trialled CBD in 53 children aged 4 – 22 years old with Autism. They found that 67% of treated patients exhibited lower levels of self-injury and rage attacks, and 68% showed a reduction in hyperactivity symptoms. Sleep problems and anxiety also improved in 71% and 47% of children treated, respectively. One downside was that 8.8% of children in this trial showed increased behavioural issues (self-injury and rage attacks), and 23.5% showed increased anxiety levels. This shows that this medication may not work for all patients, so good clinical judgement is recommended.

The researchers in this trial discovered that CBD was generally-well tolerated, but some occasional mild side effects were noted. These were most commonly sleepiness and change in appetite, but these all resolved over time.

Armed with this knowledge, I began to experiment with CBD treatment in children within our clinic over the last year, and the results have been astounding. Many of the patients we have seen thus far have had dramatic improvements in their Autism symptoms, ranging from improved sleep and reduced aggressive behaviours, to reduced anxiety, improved cognitive function, and reduced hyperactivity. Every patient I have seen so far have had no significant issues with side effects that necessitated them to stop. Suffice to say that I was blown away by how successfully this medication has worked for this patient cohort.

In part II of this article, I will run through a case study which exemplifies some of the results we have generally seen in our clinic. Hopefully, this will shed more light into the therapeutic benefits of this amazing medicine.

References:

Russo E. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 2011. (163) 1344–1364.

Barchel et al. Oral cannabidiol use in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to treat related symptoms and Co-morbidities. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2019. Volume 9; Article 1521.

Medicinal cannabis in Spinal cord injuries: A clinician’s perspective

By Dr David Feng

I work as the Medical Director for Cannadoc Health, and in recent months I have been receiving more referrals from doctors about helping their patients with spinal cord injuries. Many of the patients who I consult have a very similar story.

After the initial trauma of the injury, many spinal cord injury patients develop a Chronic Pain Syndrome that tends to worsen with time. This happens as the injury itself causes permanent nerve damage to the spinal cord. The damaged neurons can send off abnormal, irregular, and high intensity pain signals irrespective of any ongoing injury. Over time, such patients become more ‘sensitised’ to the pain, setting off a cascade of secondary symptoms that inevitably worsens their discomfort.

As the pain condition progresses, these patients begin to lose sleep, their muscles start to waste away, and they begin to suffer intermittent cramping and spasms of their muscles. They often describe anxiety, depression, and insomnia because of the chronic nature of the pain, which further drives their distress. This becomes a vicious cycle of pain leading to emotional distress, leading to more pain. Eventually, such patients can become so physically and emotionally worn-down they no longer have any quality of life.

By the time such patients come to see me, they are often at the end of their tether. The majority will have tried a host of traditional front-line therapies such as strong narcotics (or opiates), nerve pain medications, anti-spasm medications, anti-inflammatories, as well as other more invasive treatments. If they come to see me, it means these therapies have not worked well. In such situations, it may be worthwhile exploring a trial of medicinal cannabis.

I have seen spinal cord injury patients that go from severe and daily debilitating levels of pain (often quoted as “15/10” pains) with poor quality of life, to “less than a 1/10” pain within a month of starting cannabinoid therapy. Initially, I thought this was too good to be true, but when this continued to happen consistently, I realised this was no fluke. This is the reason I decided to pursue this relatively new field of medicine; I wanted to find and help others who are suffering similar tragic circumstances.

Therefore, if you are suffering from chronic, debilitating pain, and you have tried and failed traditional therapies for pain relief, consider seeking advice from your doctor about the potential therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis.

In a decade of medicine, I have yet to find a better pain medication than medicinal cannabis in terms of its risk to reward profile. No, it is not going to work for everyone, but for those it works for, the results can sometimes be simply astounding.