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CBD Could Help Treat Behavioral Problems in Children With Intellectual Disabilities, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 26, 2020    Last Updated: Jul 03, 2020
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A new trial has found that high doses of CBD appear to benefit children living with intellectual disorders.

Published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, the small study observed that children given CBD showed fewer behavioral problems, such as aggression and self-injury.

As the medication was well-tolerated, the study’s authors hope to expand the research and further document the cannabinoid’s potential benefits for children with intellectual disorders.

Small study

Intellectual disorder are often characterized by significant limitations in reasoning and learning, as well as a range of behavioral issues.

As many current medications for child behavioral problems, such as anti-psychotics, can incur unwanted side effects like weight gain, the authors of the new study wanted to explore the potential of CBD as a safer substitute.

“Weight gain brings additional practical problems in youth with ID, who are often dependent on carers for activities such as dressing, bathing and toileting, as well as compounding the management of aggressive behaviour,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

To draw their conclusions, the team first recruited eight children and adolescents who had been diagnosed with an intellectual disorder.

Four of the children were given 98 percent CBD oil. The dose was increased by 5 milligrams per kilogram every 3 days for 9 days to reach the maximum dose of 20 mg/kg/day. The other four participants were given a placebo.

Parents completed a behavioral questionnaire prior to and following the experiment to record any changes the CBD may have contributed to.

The results showed a clear reduction in aberrant behavior from the CBD group. Scores of irritability, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity fell in the placebo group, too, but the drop seen in the CBD group was deemed greater and more significant.

The parents reported that the medications were generally well-tolerated and incurred no serious side effects. All parents said they would recommend the study to families with children with similar problems.

“Parents of children with an intellectual disability and severe behavioural problems are increasingly asking paediatricians whether they can access medicinal cannabis for their child and some parents have reported giving unregulated cannabis products to their children,” Daryl Efron, an assistant professor at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Australia, and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“We are also finding many physicians feel unprepared to have these conversations with their patients.” 

Small steps

Of course, as the trial only involved eight participants (and only seven parents completed the questionnaire), its conclusions are limited.

Yet the study’s authors say their findings are promising enough to warrant further research. And so they are now seeking funding for a more expansive trial into the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in children with autism and Tourette’s syndrome.

CBD has been shown to help reduce aggression in rodent studies, and rates of seizures in other child studies.

However, some of these latter studies have found that the CBD treatment also increases adverse side effects, such as decreased appetite and diarrhea.

This article was amended on July 3 to include a fuller definition of intellectual disorders.


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