Clinical Trial Underway to Determine CBD Efficacy Treating Autism Behavioral Symptoms

The big question people are asking is whether CBD can help with behavior problems in children with autism. This is precisely what researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine aim to determine.

These researchers are recruiting eligible children between seven and fourteen years of age to participate in their Phase III clinical trial. During this study, the goal is to definitively determine whether cannabidiol lessens the severity of behavioral problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

cannabis autism study cbd

As one of the non-psychoactive cannabis compounds available, many market CBD for an assortment of therapeutic benefits. These benefits include acne, anxiety, treating cancer, reducing chronic pain, and more. But in the majority of cases, the lack of supporting empirical evidence means the claims are primarily anecdotal.

However, there are some expectations. CBD can be used to treat two types of severe epilepsy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex in 2018. Boston-based Greenwich Biosciences developed this prescription drug to treat the seizures that characterize Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. As a highly purified solution of CBD, the efficacy of this drug has been proven.

Research has revealed that CBD modulates nerve cell messages throughout regulatory regions of the brain. These regions include the ones that regulate anxiety, behavior, and executive function. This means it’s possible to influence these regions to block signals to key neuronal receptors that can trigger seizures when overstimulated.

Doris Trauner, MD, Distinguished Professor of Neurosciences and Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a pediatric neurologist attending Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego with specialized expertise in neurodevelopmental disabilities, discussed the subject. She claims, “Studies using animals modeling ASD have shown that CBD has similar effects: Excitatory neurotransmitters are inhibited, leading to a reduction of behavioral and social deficits characteristic of ASD.”

She went on to say, “CBD may have potential or many neurological disabilities, but there is particular interest in autism because the behavioral problems can be severe and limit the child’s ability to learn and socialize.”

At this point, there is a randomized, double-blind crossover study underway. Trauner is the principal investigator in this clinical trial seeking 30 participants, from ages 7 to 14, coping with diagnosed cases of autism characterized by severe symptoms. The study excludes children with epilepsy. Each of the participants will have behavioral testing, electroencephalograms, and MRI scans.

During the study’s first phase, half of the participants will take CBD while the other half receive a placebo. The next phase will happen once the participants’ systems “washout.” This is when the groups will be switched, administering CBD to the half that initially received the placebo and vice versa. The investigators will not know which participants receive which treatment until the testing is finished.

CBD does not impose the “high” commonly associated with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Instead, this cannabinoid influences the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a network of neurotransmitters responsible for regulating a plethora of physiological and cognitive processes and responses to stress. With this being the case, there’s potential that CBD can be used to improve severe behavior problems in children with ASD.

One in 68 children in the U.S. is impacted by ASD, with the majority being boys. This is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder; a plethora of known or suspected causative factors exist, including inherited genetic mutations, environmental conditions, and metabolic dysfunction. One of the most severe consequences is abnormal development and functioning of the connectivity and communications between the brain cells within neural networks. This is what produces many of the observable cognitive and social impairments people with ASD experience.

The clinical trial is performed in conjunction with the Wholistic Research and Education Foundation, and it’s occurring at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

If you have any questions or would like more information regarding the CBD-autism clinical trial, contact Lauren Smith via email at or call her at 619-627-1133.