Clinical Trial: Whole-Plant Cannabis Extracts Associated with Improved Outcomes in Autistic Patients

Jerusalem, Israel: The oral administration of plant-derived cannabis extracts is well-tolerated and reduces disruptive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to clinical trial data published in the journal Molecular Autism

A team of Israeli researchers assessed the safety and efficacy of a pair of CBD-dominant whole-plant cannabis extracts in a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial of 150 young people (mean age 11.8 years) with autism. Subjects received both extracts and placebo at different times during the course of the trial. 

Investigators reported that there were “no treatment-related severe or serious adverse events” resulting from cannabis therapy. Cannabinoid treatment was associated with reductions in disruptive behaviors compared to placebo. Researchers reported: “Disruptive behavior on the CGI-I [Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale] was either much or very much improved in 49 percent [of subjects taking] whole-plant extract versus 21 percent on placebo. Median SRS [Social Responsiveness Scale] Total Score (secondary-outcome) improved by 14.9 [points] on whole-plant extract versus 3.6 points after placebo.” Cannabis extracts were also associated with a reduction in body mass index among overweight patients.

Authors concluded: “In this study, we have demonstrated for the first time in a placebo-controlled trial that cannabinoid treatment has the potential to decrease disruptive behaviors associated with ASD, with acceptable tolerability. This is specifically important for the many individuals with ASD who are overweight, as cannabinoid treatment was associated with net weight-loss in contrast to the substantial weight gain usually produced by antipsychotics. … These data suggest that cannabinoids should be further investigated in ASD.”

The findings are consistent with those of several prior observational studies – such as those herehereherehere, and here – which have similarly reported that plant-derived cannabis extracts are effective and well-tolerated in mitigating various symptoms in patients with ASD, including hyperactivity, seizures, anxiety, and rage attacks.

Full text of the study, “Cannabinoid treatment for autism: A proof-of-concept randomized trials,” appears in Molecular Autism.