Jan. 31, 2019

​​In a new study of autistic patients aged 18 and under, researchers from BGU and Soroka University Medical Center report that cannabis as a treatment for autism spectrum disorders appears to be a well-tolerated, safe and effective option to relieve symptoms including seizures, tics, depression, restlessness and rage attacks. 

The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, says that “overall, more than 80 percent of the parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their child," says Lihi Bar-Lev Schleiderof the BGU Clinical Cannabis Research Institute, BGU Faculty of Health Sciences and Soroka University Medical Center, a lead researcher in the study.

Autism is an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), an extensive developmental disorder that is expressed in almost all dimensions of the child's development. It is now common to refer to this disorder as a wide range of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a condition that appears in a range manifestations and a variety of symptoms. In the study, diagnosis of ASD was established in accordance with the accepted practice in Israel. 

According to Dr. Gal Meiri, the head of the Preschool Psychiatry Unit at Soroka Medical Center and a faculty member of BGU's Joyce and Irving Goldman School of Medicine, “We analyzed the data prospectively collected as part of the treatment program of 188 ASD patients treated with medical cannabis between 2015 and 2017. The treatment in majority of the patients was based on cannabis oil containing 30 percent CBD and 1.5 percent THC. Symptoms inventory, patient global assessment and side effects at six months were primary outcomes of interest and were assessed by structured questionnaires. 

“Overall, after six months of treatment 30 percent of patients reported a significant improvement, 53.7 percent reported moderate improvement, and only 15 percent had slight or no change," Dr. Meiri added. 

In the study quality of life, mood and ability to perform activities of daily living were assessed before the treatment and at six months. Good quality of life was reported by 31.3 percent of patients prior to treatment initiation while at six months, good quality of life more than doubled to 66.8 percent. Positive mood was reported by parents as 42 percent before treatment and 63.5 after six months. 

The ability to dress and shower independently was significantly improved by the cannabis treatment, from 26.4 percent, who reported no difficulty in these activities prior to the treatment to 42.9 percent at six months. Cannabis oil medication also significantly improved sleep and concentration. Good sleep and good concentration were reported by 3.3 percent and 0 percent respectively at the outset vs. 24.7 percent and 14 percent during an active treatment.

“While this study suggest that cannabis treatment is safe and can improve ASD symptoms and improve ASD patient's quality of life, we believe that double blind placebo-controlled trials are crucial for a better understanding of the cannabis effect on ASD patients," Dr. Novack says.

The study, titled Real life Experience of Medical Cannabis Treatment in Autism: Analysis of Safety and Efficacy was funded by Tikun Olam Ltd. 

Other researchers that participated in the study include; Raphael Mechoulam, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Naama Saban, Research Department, Tikun Olam.

Media Coverage:
Breaking Israel News​
The Times of Israel
The Jerusalem Post​
Israel 21C​