EducationA comprehensive guide to CBD and autism in adults

A comprehensive guide to CBD and autism in adults

8 min read

Kerry Charron

A comprehensive guide to CBD and autism in adults


Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition in which a person experiences and perceives the world differently when compared to neurotypical individuals. Light, sound, movement, and other sensory stimuli can trigger intense mental and emotional responses for those with autism. 

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and often negatively impact the patient’s quality of life. Effectively managing the overstimulation, anxiety, and insomnia can be extremely stressful for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Living with autism is challenging at any age, but autism in adulthood requires reviewing therapeutic strategies that may supplement conventional treatment options. An increasing number of patients with autism are showing interest in cannabidiol (CBD) to manage their symptoms. 

Many studies have shown that CBD is safe, effective, and well tolerated, and it has been shown to support general wellness. CBD is administered to promote better sleep, immune support, stress reduction, and pain relief. It also has significant antianxiety properties, which may help adults with autism mentally relax and focus. 

Overview of autism in adults

Autism is a developmental disability, and people with ASD tend to have problems with social communication and interaction. They may display repetitive behaviours, highly specific interests, and how they learn, pay attention, and process information may differ from people who do not have autism. Overstimulation, changes to a routine, and new learning environments and processes can be overwhelming for patients with autism.

Autism symptoms are different for each individual, but some common signs of autism in adults include:

  • Social anxiety in new situations 
  • Difficulty comprehending what others are thinking or feeling
  • Difficulty expressing emotions 
  • Challenges with forming new friendships
  • Comments may seem rude or blunt 
  • Can interpret things literally or not understand social cues
  • Becomes unsettled with changes to a routine 

Some patients have success managing symptoms with pharmaceutical medications and behavioural therapy, and many patients use meditation and exercise to release stress and promote wellness. While there are conventional treatment options have been proven to be effective in helping sufferers of autism, there is an ever present need for more treatment choices. CBD potentially offers many patients with autism significant therapeutic benefits. 

CBD offers many potential general wellness benefits in addition to possibly alleviating specific symptoms associated with autism. CBD’s therapeutic properties include the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory 
  • Anti-bacterial  
  • Anti-oxidant
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anti-pain

CBD can potentially reduce insomnia, irritability, and inflammation. It has been shown, through clinical research, to also offer potential neuroprotective and antimicrobial properties. Taking CBD may support the patient’s overall wellness and immune system. 

There is also anecdotal evidence that CBD potentially reduces challenging behaviours such as aggression and irritability, as well as comorbid disorders such as insomnia and anxiety. 

Understanding autism in adults

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that affects how people perceive, communicate, and interact with the world. Symptoms include anxiety, difficulty with communication and socialization, and insomnia. 

Some individuals with autism are not diagnosed until late in adulthood, but they may have experienced personal and social challenges throughout life. As adults, some patients will find pharmaceutical medication useful for managing symptoms. Doctors commonly prescribe antidepressant, antipsychotic and antianxiety medications to help patients manage symptoms of depression, aggression, and anxiety. 

Researchers suspect autism may be genetic, but some environmental factors may play a role in developing ASD. Current research is investigating the causes of autism. Some researchers believe that more than one gene is responsible for causing autism.

How CBD can help adults with autism

CBD, and all other treatment options, can not cure autism. But, the administration of CBD in partnership with conventional pharmaceuticals and behavioural therapy may be able to bring positive outcomes for those with autism. 

Anxiety is a constant issue for many people with autism. The mere fact that many autism sufferers struggle to understand social cues can make day to day life anxiety ridden. 

CBD has shown potential in reducing anxiety. This study showed that CBD may be able to reduce the social anxiety felt around public speaking, and this review looked into how CBD, may be able to reduce the feeling of anxiety and panic while also lowering the chances of psychotic episodes. 

Another clinical study focused on both anxiety and sleep, which may be of particular interest to autism sufferers. Sleep issues are very common for a wide range of neurodivergent individuals, and poor sleep can lead to a wide range of other issues. While there were no neurodivergent participants in this study , it did conclude that” CBD may have a calming effect on the central nervous system and may be a potential treatment option for anxiety and sleep disorders.”

Repetitive behaviours are quite common with autism sufferers, as they may help to ease underlying anxiety. But, they can also be a source of extra anxiety, especially in social situations. Research has shown that repetitive behaviours are decreased when  oxytocin is released, and this paper looked into the relationship between CBD and oxytocin production. It found that “CBD leads to enhancement in the release of vasopressin and oxytocin; thus, it could positively affect ASD core symptoms. Studies have shown that oxytocin administration to patients with ASD improves social interactions, reduces classic repetitive behaviour, and increases eye contact”

Results of the studies conducted

Researchers who conducted a 2021 review of CBD’s effectiveness for treating ASD symptoms indicated that cannabinoids offered a potential alternative therapy option for autism.

CBD has been found to be safe and well tolerated in emerging clinical trials. CBD has less harsh side effects than some of the pharmaceutical and antipsychotic medication often prescribed for autism. 

How to administer CBD for adults with autism

Before you make any changes to any changes to your current treatment plan, we highly recommend consulting with not only your current clinical team, but also a doctor that is registered to, and has experience in, prescribing medicinal cannabis for autism sufferers. 

Of course, over the counter CBD products can be found almost everywhere these days. But, there are a bunch of factors that need to be considered if you want the best chance at high efficacy.

Height, weight, and overall health affect bioavailability, or the rate at which a substance enters and circulates throughout the body. The amount and quality of food, hydration, and sleep also influence bioavailability.

Only a doctor that is experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis will be able to properly offer dosage advice, as well as the correct CBD products. Let's quickly discuss the different options.

CBD mainly comes in isolate, broad spectrum and full spectrum products. CBD isolate is a crystallized form of pure CBD. It undergoes a special extraction and distillation process that results in a THC free CBD product. It also contains no terpenes or cannabinoids. 

In contrast, broad and full spectrum CBD contains cannabinoids and terpenes. The difference between the two options is that full spectrum products will contain the entire chemical profile of the source plant, including THC. Broad spectrum options also contain the entire profile, with the exception of THC (less than 0.2% THC)

Both full and broad spectrum options will offer what is referred to as the “entourage effect”. While still just a theory, recent research is heavily pointing towards the entourage effect being real. The idea is that cannabinoids and terpenes interact to enhance each other’s therapeutic effects, resulting in a more powerful response.

Monitoring the effects of CBD

All patients, no matter the health issue, should assess the dose effects after taking CBD for several weeks. This process helps determine the frequency, amount, and potency of optimal doses. 

CBD can interfere with the normal activity of some pharmaceutical medications, so patients should discuss using CBD with their prescribing physician. Many patients with autism take pharmaceutical medications, so it is important to avoid negative drug interactions. 

Safety precautions to consider

CBD does not provide effects that increase the risk of addiction, but it is significant to avoid an overdependence on CBD. Discussing a dosing plan with a prescribing physician can help maintain the lowest optimal doses to achieve symptom reduction. Moderate doses can minimize the dependence on CBD. It also prevents the slight potential of liver damage caused by long-term excessive CBD consumption.  


CBD may be a possible treatment option for adults on the autism spectrum, but it should never be viewed as a possible cure. Clinical research articles indicate there are potential benefits in treating core symptoms of ASD, such as anxiety and repetitive behaviours. And while the current research is promising, further studies need to be conducted to properly evaluate the effects of CBD on adults with autism.  

As always, it is important to discuss any change in treatment plans with your prescribing physician prior to making any changes. This is especially significant when considering CBD, as it can interfere with the normal activity of some pharmaceutical medications. It is also essential to determine a dosing plan that allows for the lowest optimal doses to achieve symptom reduction. Monitoring the effects of CBD after taking for several weeks can help in this regard.

If you need an alternative approach to manage your health condition, Releaf is here to help. Our monthly packages are based on your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Kerry, with experience as a medicinal cannabis cultivation technician and expertise in business licensing applications, is passionate about developing educational content and advocating for better access to medical cannabis worldwide.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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