Autism Parenting Magazine has revealed almost 20% of people caring for a child with autism give their child CBD, while 31.3% started usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a survey sent out by Autism Parenting Magazine (APM) to more than 160,000 email subscribers around the world, 18.6% of respondents confirmed they use CBD for a child on the spectrum to help relieve a variety of autism symptoms. Breaking the data down further, 22.16% of USA-based caregivers use CBD versus 14.29% of UK caregivers.
A total of 72.4% of respondents identified themselves as autism parents, while the remaining participants were grandparents, full-time carers, teachers, therapists, doctors, or individuals on the spectrum.
The data revealed 76.3% participants use CBD only (less than 0.3% THC), 13.7% use CBD/THC combination, while the remaining 10% use “Other” forms including Hemp, CBD/THC & Epidiolex, and CBD with Terpenes, among others.
When asked to identify the primary reason for using CBD with their child, 42.9% responded with anxiety relief, 36.9% stated challenging behavior, 5.1% said pain relief and inflammation, 8.1% said sleep and relaxation, 4.3% said seizures, while the remaining respondents identified “Other” reasons such as increasing speech and supporting potty training.
Oils (oral drops and topical sprays) were the preferred CBD format, with 60.8% of respondents opting to use these. Meanwhile, 21.5% use gummies and topicals, 7.5% use capsules or tablets, 5.1% use lotions or balms, and 1.9% use vape. The remaining respondents selected “Other” options including honey sticks and patches.
A large number of respondents use CBD for a teenager on the spectrum with 21.39% of CBD users confirming their child is aged 13 to 18.
When asked if they started using CBD during the COVID-19 pandemic, a whopping 31.3% said yes. Meanwhile, 16.6% have increased the amount of CBD they give their child since the pandemic began.
Another interesting find was that only 20.1% have a doctor’s prescription for CBD usage. Despite this, 21.7% reported it was their doctor who recommended trying CBD. Meanwhile, 27.4% were recommended by a friend or family member and 23.6% were recommended by another autism parent. The remaining respondents selected “Other” with many saying usage stemmed from their own research.
When asked if they would recommend CBD products to other parents on the spectrum, a huge majority of 82.9% said they would.
Why more parents are using CBD for their autistic kids
APM asked CBD experts, as well as autism parents, to comment on why more caregivers are starting to use CBD for children on the spectrum.
Dr. Bao Le, MD of Hhemp.co has an autistic son. He commented: “I have seen more and more blogs and articles about parents wanting to research and understand the risks and benefits of CBD products. I personally have given CBD to my autistic son for over seven years and it has helped him manage his night terrors, grand mal seizures, and tantrums. CBD has given me and my son support to help with his anxiety and hyperactive brain. I am now blessed with a son that is more loving and can express himself verbally and in facial expressions. I can’t claim that CBD will help all children with autism, but it definitely helped and changed my son’s and family’s lives.”
Autism parent Heather Keita started using CBD to calm her nonverbal daughter and help her sleep. She has seen positive results and commented: “I believe more people are using CBD through word of mouth and because of more mainstream advertising. We have recommended it to two other parents who have autistic children and they have begun trying it out for themselves. We have only received praise and thanks from them.”
Why the COVID-19 pandemic has increased CBD use
With 31.3% of caregivers starting CBD usage for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, APM was also keen to get some insight into why this might be the case.
Dr. Le commented: “Parents see an increase in stress and anxiety when their kids are stuck at home and cannot enjoy the outdoors or go to eat at familiar restaurants due to the pandemic.
For the parents that know about and take CBD regularly, it is much easier to trust something that works for you.”
Russell Lehmann, an autistic advocate, speaker and poet, added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most trying times in recent human history, and people are prioritizing their self-care like never before. Thus, many individuals who may have overlooked CBD in the past are now realizing the benefits of the cannabis plant. While CBD has no psycho-active effects, when combined with small amounts of THC (the ingredient of the cannabis plant which gives you a high) it can increase the aforementioned benefits tremendously, while also reducing the likelihood of becoming high from the THC.”
Age appropriate? Differences between CBD and cannabis
With parents giving CBD to children as young as toddlers, some readers might be worried about its association with marjuana, and whether it is safe to give to children. APM asked two doctors to delve into this question.
“The effects of CBD are much milder than cannabis or THC. Legal CBD / Hemp must have less than .3% of THC. Within that definition and legal regulations, .3% of THC has little or no euphoric effects on your body, whereas CBD and CBG (another chemical found in Hemp Plants) target the relation, healing, and reduce anxiety to our brain and body. Cannabis has been labelled as a ‘drug’, while CBD is known for healing,” explained Dr. Le.
Pharmacist Dr. Mousa Mirakhor added: “CBD will not get you high. CBD is the antithesis of THC. While THC has mind-altering capabilities, CBD has the power to induce sobriety and restore a natural balance to your bodily systems. It can even effectively cancel out the influence of THC. It’s important to note that some CBD products can still contain THC. This is because Hemp, the strain of cannabis that CBD is primarily extracted from, has trace amounts of the compound. However, it’s negligible to the point that no human can consume enough to produce any noticeable effects.”
Advice for parents considering CBD for their children
The two doctors also shared some words of caution for any parents now considering CBD for their children on the autism spectrum and looking at the different formats the products can take.
Dr. Mirakhor said: “There are many different types of CBD oil. It would be a mistake to believe that all CBD oil is the same. There are plenty of options on the market right now, and each has unique characteristics. When making a decision, it helps to know the various forms that CBD oil can take. The type of CBD extract is one of the defining traits that differentiates oils. Some are ‘full-spectrum’, which means they contain all of the compounds naturally found in Hemp, even the small amounts of THC.
“The effects of CBD tend to be cumulative rather than instant. While people have found success in treating numerous ailments with CBD oil, it is not a miracle cure-all. That is the reality that many brands will shy away from admitting to their customers. It can provide quick relief, but it will not make chronic conditions disappear overnight. CBD takes time to build up and reach its full potential.”
Dr. Le added: “As parents with autistic children, we have been taught to be patient and resourceful, and we will do anything to help our children. Just having another option to help with the day-to-day challenges is a gift. However, you should start really slow, do research, ask questions, and make sure you try a brand that posts their lab results and product ingredients on their website.”
“Start with micro-dosing, document when you start to notice any changes in attitude, stress, eye contact, verbal changes and overall mood. CBD will slow down the CNS (central nervous system), which is a good thing,” he continued. “Because children with autism have hyperactive brains that cause sensitivity to loud noises, bright light and crowded areas, when CBD enters the brain and slows down the hyperactive signals, children start to be able to focus on motor skills, speech, cognitive, and better handle stressful situations.”
CBD and therapy as a combination
The survey also found that only 7.4% of respondentes use CBD alongside Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy). This is despite some therapists and mental health professionals recommending CBD is not used as a standalone solution to difficulties.
For example, Tom Parsons, MSW, LSWAIC, Mental Health Therapist and Founder of Optimism Counseling PLLC, told APM: “Before giving a child CBD, check for simpler solutions. Can the environment adapt to your child rather than make your child adapt to the environment? If not, is there a skill that can be practiced such as deep breathing? Substances like CBD treat symptoms rather than solve problems. They should be used sparingly when other options aren’t available.”
Further CBD research: level of support and usage frequency
Intrigued by the findings, APM sent out a further survey asking what level of support respondents’ children on the autism spectrum require (e.g. high functioning / low functioning), and how often the responding caregivers use CBD products with their child.
A total of 42.9% of participants said their child “requires substantial support”, 39.3% said “requires support”, and 17.9% answered “requires very substantial support”.
Responding to how often they use CBD products, 46.4% said “daily”, 28.6% replied “only occasionally”, 3.6% said “weekly” and the remaining participants gave “Other” responses including mentioning they no longer use CBD or do so infrequently.
Russell added some powerful closing words: “I am a vehement advocate for contextualizing the cannabis plant as it is rife with misconceptions and social stigmas. CBD is just one aspect of this amazing plant that can literally be life-changing, especially for parents whose young kids may be struggling. Therefore, I highly recommend CBD for individuals with severe anxiety, depression, neurological disorders, and insomnia as well.”
It is clear from the survey data, as well as multiple other studies on CBD usage for children on the spectrum, that more and more parents are considering CBD products. Initial results showing the impact of CBD on autistic children are encouraging, with anxiety, challenging behaviors and sleep issues all appearing to reduce for those that try these products. However, all caregivers should approach any treatments with caution and it is always best to consult a medical clinician for advice before starting CBD with your child.