By / July 1, 2020

A new study shows cannabis could help children with intellectual disabilities

A new study, during which children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities were administered CBD, showed that this cannabinoid is able to positively influence the nature of their behavioral problems.

The peer-review study has shown that CBD – an active component of the cannabis plant – is able to significantly reduce the severity of behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Most of the study participants did not notice any negative side effects, and the CBD was well tolerated.

To carry out the study, the researchers received an MRFF grant of $608,446 (A$883,484). This made it possible to conduct a randomized and also placebo-controlled study in order to test the findings and the cost-effectiveness of the treatment as well as possible.

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The study concluded that consuming cannabis could bring positive behavioral changes

The pilot study, led by the  Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, recorded a significant change after clinical research with participants in multiple areas:

  • Irritability decreased
  • Aggression diminished
  • Self-injury was applied less (self-harm)
  • Participants shouted less

The randomized controlled trial involved eight participants, ages eight to sixteen. They were given cannabidiol or a placebo for eight weeks. The participants were patients from children’s hospitals and were carefully selected for participation.

Although the pilot study is not of a large size and, therefore, no definitive statements can be made about the results, the early findings support the researchers’ suspicions. Obviously, there is a strong need for a – larger – follow-up study.

This is also very important in order to definitively test the cost-effectiveness of the treatment. Only a large-scale randomized controlled trial can provide the definitive results needed to bring about changes in drug prescription and clinical care guidelines.

Parents are happy with the results and are looking forward to their children using medical cannabis

Associate professor Daryl Efron, the clinician-scientist at MCRI who led the study, said this was the first study of cannabidiol to treat serious behavioral problems in children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities. Most participants also had some form of autism.

The study showed that CBD was generally well tolerated and no serious side effects have been reported. All parents reported that they would certainly recommend participating in a study like this to other families with children with similar problems.

Two percent of children and adolescents have intellectual disabilities and about half of them have mental health problems. They often have serious behavioral problems, such as irritability, aggression, and self-harm.  

Cannabis is proving to have a better effect than conventional drugs

Research leader Efron said that: “Conventional pediatric medicines, including antipsychotics and antidepressants, are prescribed by Australian pediatricians – despite limited evidence of their effectiveness – to nearly half of young people with intellectual disabilities. Given how extremely difficult behavioral problems are treated in these patients, new, safer treatment methods are needed for this very vulnerable patient group.”

Current medicines have a high risk of side effects, whereby vulnerable people with intellectual disabilities are less able to actually report them. Common side effects of antipsychotics, such as weight gain and metabolic syndrome, have enormous health effects on a patient group that already has an increased risk of chronic diseases.

Cannabidiol is increasingly used to treat a range of medical and psychiatric conditions in adults, and has also been found to be very effective and safe to use in children with epilepsy. 

Parents of children with intellectual disabilities and serious behavioral problems increasingly ask pediatricians if they want to prescribe medical cannabis to their children. Some parents report giving their children unregulated cannabis products. Although the latter is not entirely responsible, it is a logical choice. A parent only wants the best for their child.


(Featured image by Nathan Legakis via Pixabay)

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