Palmitoylethanolamide as adjunctive therapy for autism: Efficacy and safety results from a randomized controlled trial

J Psychiatr Res. 2018 Aug:103:104-111. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.04.022. Epub 2018 May 1.

Abstract

Inflammation as well as glutamate excitotoxicity have been proposed to participate in the propagation of autism. Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is an endocannabinoid proven to prevent glutamatergic toxicity and inhibit inflammatory responses simultaneously. The present randomized, parallel group, double-blind placebo-controlled trial is the first study depicted to probe the efficacy of co-treatment with risperidone and PEA over 10 weeks in children with autism. Seventy children (aged 4-12 years) with autism and moderate to severe symptoms of irritability were randomly assigned to two treatment regimens. The study outcomes were measured using the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community Edition (ABC-C). At trial endpoint (week 10), combination of PEA and risperidone had superior efficacy in ameliorating the ABC-irritability and hyperactivity/noncompliance symptoms (Cohen's d, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.94, 0.41 to 1.46, p = 0.001) compared with a risperidone plus placebo regimen. Interestingly, effect of combination treatment on hyperactivity symptoms was also observed at trial midpoint (week 5) but with a smaller effect size (d = 0.53, p = 0.04) than that at the endpoint (d = 0.94, p = 0.001). Meanwhile, there was a trend toward significance for superior effect of risperidone plus PEA over risperidone plus placebo on inappropriate speech at trial endpoint (d = 0.51, p = 0.051). No significant differences existed between the two treatment groups for the other two ABC-C subscales (lethargy/social withdrawal and stereotypic behavior). The findings suggest that PEA may augment therapeutic effects of risperidone on autism-related irritability and hyperactivity. Future studies are warranted to investigate whether PEA can serve as a stand-alone treatment for autism.

Keywords: Autism; Endocannabinoid system; Hyperactivity; Inflammation; Irritability; Palmitoylethanolamide; Randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amides
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Autistic Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Ethanolamines / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Palmitic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Risperidone / therapeutic use
  • Serotonin Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Treatment Outcome*

Substances

  • Amides
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Ethanolamines
  • Palmitic Acids
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • palmidrol
  • Risperidone