Is CBD an option for Autism Spectrum Disorder?

By Marc Lewis
Caleb Woods, Unsplash

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that can impact communication and behavior. Those affected often have a hard time communicating with those around them, or they may experience repetitive behaviors and narrowed interests. These symptoms can make it difficult for the individual to function in school, at work, or at home.

There are many treatment options available, including therapy and traditional medication. For some parents of children with autism, cannabidiol (CBD oil) may be the solution they’re looking for. CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, but it has no psychoactive effect—this means those who use it don’t experience a high.

We surveyed parents of children with ASD to see who is treating their kids with CBD and what its benefits are, especially when compared to prescription medications. Let’s take a look at our findings to discover how CBD works for these families.

Who Treats Their Children Using CBD?

First, we asked our respondents whether they treated their children with ASD using CBD. While the majority did say no (almost 60 percent), over 40 percent said CBD was something they used to help their children with ASD.

We also asked respondents how they administered CBD to their children. Most looked for the best CBD oil, with around 43 percent adding drops to drinking water, and about 32 percent putting drops directly into their children’s mouth. Roughly 39 percent offered their children CBD gummies, and almost 26 percent use CBD in pill form.

Word on the Street

Parents who used CBD for health-related reasons often heard about its use from a friend or a family member (roughly 27 percent each). An additional 15 percent found information about CBD online. While most of these sources are word-of-mouth, around 11 percent of parents heard about using CBD for health-related reasons from their primary physician.

Related: CBD and ADHD

Research has shown that CBD oil benefits are wide reaching, and the compound is especially helpful for pain relief. It can also work as an antidepressant and has shown promise as a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory agent as well. Research as to its effectiveness is ongoing in areas including autism, involuntary motor disorders, and insomnia, and the FDA has also approved the very first CBD medication for certain types of seizure disorders (Epidiolex).

CBD Benefits for Those With ASD

We asked our respondents what prompted them to try CBD with their children (keep in mind that parents could select more than one answer). Fifty percent said their kids had impulse control problems and a short attention span. Nearly the same amount noted their children were hyperactive, and 45 percent said they hoped CBD would help their children’s aggression or unusual moods. Thirty-five percent of respondents said their kids had trouble sleeping, and 30 percent said their kids had difficulty communicating.

Once they started the treatment, parents reported noticing quite a few benefits. The most cited benefit was that their children exhibited more positive moods (almost 56 percent). Nearly 53 percent reported their children had less anxiety, and over 45 percent said CBD provided their children with stress relief. Improved sleep quality was cited by more than a third of respondents who used CBD with their children, and improved communication was also up there (roughly 30 percent).

Almost 13 percent of parents who used CBD with their children said it reduced their need for pharmaceutical prescriptions.

Comparing CBD to Conventional Medications

On that note, we asked our respondents to think about CBD relative to prescription medications. Over 51 percent said CBD was moderately effective at helping their children with ASD, with another 24 percent noting they felt it was extremely effective.

Related: Is CBD Safe for Kids?

These are quite different from the answers parents gave about prescription medications, where 39 percent felt they were somewhat effective, a third said they were moderately effective, and only 10 percent thought they were extremely effective.

Mindsets on Medicine

We delved further to learn more about what parents thought regarding prescription medications and how they compared to CBD. Fifty-two percent of parents said they felt their children consumed too many prescription medications related to managing the symptoms of their ASD. A little more than that (53.5 percent) felt these meds did more harm than good.

We also queried those parents who had yet to try CBD for their kids. A majority (71.4 percent) said they would consider using CBD to manage their kids’ ASD instead of prescription medications.

This number may be bolstered by the fact that CBD has very few, if any, side effects for most people. Researchers note that CBD has a favorable safety profile when compared to some prescription medications. Further studies should be undertaken, especially when considering long-term or high-use dosages, and the main side effects of tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite were considered tolerable, especially when contrasted with the side effects of prescription medications.

Consider risperidone, which is sometimes used to manage aggression, self-injury, and mood swings in children aged 5 to 16 with autism. Side effects of risperidone can be severe and include things like agitation and anxiety in addition to constipation and heartburn, and can even cause seizures in some people.

Better Quality of Life?

Of those using CBD, almost 79 percent admitted they were skeptical before they began treatment. Although CBD is not a psychoactive substance, it’s still considered an illegal Schedule I drug by the federal government (for now). Despite its easy availability and lack of a psychoactive nature, it’s understandable that parents might hesitate before going down this path with their children.

Finally, we asked respondents if their kids had a better quality of life after starting treatment. Nearly three-quarters reported their kids did (72.5 percent). Also, we asked if they’d recommend CBD to their family or friends, and the majority answer was a resounding yes (93.2 percent).


With more and more research showing that CBD can and does help alleviate many symptoms associated with conditions like ASD, it’s no surprise that those who have experienced it firsthand will attest to their positive experiences. As seen above, many of our respondents who tried CBD with their children first learned about it from their families and friends. Real-world, word-of-mouth recommendations tend to carry a lot of weight and can be really helpful for families looking for relief beyond a traditional prescription.


Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, we collected responses from 547 parents of children with autism spectrum disorder who were currently taking steps to manage their children’s ASD. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 81 with a mean of 35 and a standard deviation of 9.28. Participants were excluded if they did not have a child with ASD, had never taken measures to treat their child, or were clearly not paying attention (failed an attention-check question or entered obviously inconsistent data). Statistical testing was not performed.


Participants were not explicitly asked if their children were professionally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Self-reported studies may suffer from specific disadvantages due to the way that subjects may respond while taking surveys. These disadvantages include but are not limited to: attribution, telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory.


Fair Use Statement

Want to share these findings? Whether your readers are looking for help or have already experienced the benefits of CBD, we welcome the sharing of our findings and all related graphics for any noncommercial distribution. We only ask that you link back to this page so that those who worked on this project earn credit for their work.

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