Study Summary: Clinical Outcomes of Medical Cannabis for Autism (ASD)

Updated: Oct 9

A September 2022 peer-reviewed research study entitled "Clinical Outcomes of Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder—Analysis from the UK Medical Cannabis Registry" that was published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology investigated the potential medicinal value of medical marijuana for patients suffering autism.

"Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) have been identified as a promising novel therapeutic for symptoms and comorbidities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD)," reported the study. The research lamented the "paucity of clinical evidence of their efficacy and safety" for autism.


"Cannabis products have been identified as a promising novel therapeutic for symptoms and comorbidities related to autism."

The researchers stated that their goal was to "assess changes to health-related quality of life and the incidence of adverse events in patients treated with CBMPs for associated symptoms of ASD."


The Study

All study participants were enrolled in and found via the UK Medical Cannabis Registry. This included 74 patients "treated with CBMPs for autism-related symptoms for a minimum of one month." It recorded and analyzed all adverse events and negative symptoms. The mean age of study subjects was 33.

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The research measured changes in a variety of outcomes after one, three, and six months. The measures included changes in anxiety and sleep quality.


Results

The research reported "significant improvements in general health-related quality of life and sleep" among the study participants. These improvements were noted at the one and three month marks, with no improvement—but maintenance of progress—displayed after six months.


Fourteen study subjects (19 percent of the cohort group) reported a total of 180 adverse events over the six month period. These events were noted as mild to moderate, "rather than severe," and included

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Conclusions

The study "demonstrated in patients with autism an associated improvement in general health-related quality of life, including anxiety- and sleep-specific symptoms, following initiation of treatment with CBMPs." Thus, the scientists concluded that cannabis may be a valuable therapeutic agent in the treatment of patients with autism.


The study demonstrated in patients with autism an improvement in general health-related quality of life, including anxiety- and sleep-specific symptoms, following treatment with cannabis products.

However, the study's authors noted that their data lacked a control group. Such a clinical study element would not receive the CBMPs to compare their responses to that of the group receiving the actual cannabis products. In a best case scenario, the control group would be handled in a double-blind setup in which both study subjects and the scientists conducting the research are unaware of which participant fell into which group (in other words, a fully anonymized cohort group).


"These findings, whilst promising, are limited by the confines of the study which lacks a control arm and is subject to attrition bias. The scientists concluded that "further evaluation is required with randomised controlled trials" to better understand underlying mechanisms of action and to determine critical nuances of clinical usage such as dosage and drug interactions.


View the original study.


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