A new study has found that medicinal cannabis may improve the overall quality of life in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Using data which has been collected from the UK Medical Cannabis Registry (UKMCR), it was also found that cannabis treatment reduced behavioural and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and sleep-related problems.
This is the first time that observational research has focused on the effects of cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) on autistic adults.
Autism in the UK
The most common challenges someone with autism has to face include severe anxiety, insomnia, bullying, as well as day-to-day reality feeling extremely confusing or overwhelming.
Treatment options are very limited for ASD patients, and medications that are usually prescribed may provoke further side-effects for some.
Diagnostic assessments are also proving to be difficult as people are having to wait too long to begin their treatment.
Medicinal cannabis products have been prescriped by specialists since 2018 to help treat a number of conditions, such as anxiety, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The study’s findings
74 patients, with an average age of 33, with ASD self-reported their outcomes after the initiation of the cannabis treatment. The answers were then analysed by researchers.
There were three scales that were measured at month one, three, and six, which included:
- The Generalised Anxiety Disorder Scale
- The Sleep Quality Scale
- The Quality of Life Scale (which measures mobility, ability to self-care, ability to undertake usual activities, and the degree of pain or discomfort.)
After month one and three, significant improvements in health-related quality of life, anxiety, and sleep were found.
Researchers also found a 33% and 25% reduction in prescribed drugs, such as antipsychotics and benzodiazepines, following the cannabis treatment.
Authors also noted that the CBMPs were well tolerated by 81.1% of patients, with around 19% of patients experiencing mild or moderate side effects.
Further studies needed
“Adults with ASD face an array of challenging symptoms associated with the condition, which can have a devastating impact on their quality of life.
“The goal of treatment here is not to modify the core traits of autism. These can be valuable and invariably form a core part of a person’s identity,” said senior author of the study, and consultant psychiatrist at Sapphire Medical Clinics, Dr. James Rucker.
“Rather, treatment with CBMPs helps to alleviate the burden of associated symptoms, including debilitating generalised and social anxiety, severe insomnia, repetitive and distressing patterns of thought, and the emotional distress that can often occur in response to rapid change.
“The results of this study reflect my clinical experience prescribing CBMPs. However, there is a lack of clinical trial evidence available that informs us all objectively about the efficacy and safety of CBMPs.
“These findings present a significant step forward for research in this area, although they form only the first step in a longer and more rigorous process of evaluation,”