Do People with Autism Benefit from CBD Use? Looks Like it.

By Michael Saunders


Children and adults with Autism often struggle with behavioral excesses (things they’re doing too much of), and behavioral deficits (thing’s they don’t do often enough). It also often the case that in the United States, children and adults with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) are prescribed extremely potent, often harmful medications to reduce behavioral episodes. Medications like Risperdone (anti-psychotic medication) and Adderall for ADHD symptoms are commonly prescribed to treat behavioral excesses in youth and adults with ID.  

An example of serious behavioral excess a kiddo, or adult with autism, can engage in too much of is Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB). By definition, SIB is harmful to the individual and includes things like head hitting, eye gouging and self-biting. People with Autism and other Intellectual Disabilities sometimes attack others as well, or create other dangerous situations.

On the less severe, but important to address side are disruptive, repetitive behaviors that remain challenging for people with Autism. These often make difficult for them to, and are often incompatible with functional learning. These things include behaviors like making loud repetitive noises, watching, or listening to tiny snippets of video, insomnia and other challenges.  

People with Autism often experience the same kinds of stressors and internal dysregulation we all experience, they struggle with learning how to handle specific stressors and matching those situations with specific coping strategies. For example, (and it took me a long time to learn this about myself) when I get stressed out, I know what is going to work for me personally to reduce acute stress, and I can address it with a known effective strategy—those strategies are often paired with use of cannabis for me.  I can also make a plan to avoid those triggers in the future. People with Autism and other developmental disabilities struggle with these skills.

Studies are now showing that CBD oils are helping reduce acute stress, reducing Self-Injurious behaviors and improving sleep in kiddos and adults with Autism and other Intellectual Disabilities (Barchel, Stoler, De-Haan, Ziv-Baran, Saban, Or Fuchs, Koren & Berkovitch, 2018).  The authors of the study found that about 67% of the children who participated in the study saw a significant reduction in Self-injurious Behavior and rage attacks. Further, they found that over 70% of the children who participated had improved sleep, and over 40% experienced an improvement in anxiety related, compulsive, or obsessive behaviors (Barchel,, 2018).

As a former educator of children and adults with Autism and ID, I know for a fact that it is extremely important to address severe and disruptive behaviors in people with Autism and ID so that they can remain safe, learn and grow as human beings. Considering the fact that long term use of pharmaceutical medications like Risperdal are so harmful, and once again, there’s evidence to support the fact that the cannabis plant can help reduce acute symptoms of stress and anxiety in people with developmental disabilities, that to deny parents the right to use CBD as a treatment in some states and municipalities is criminal at worst, and inhumane at best.

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