The Safety and Effectiveness of High-Dose Propranolol as a Treatment for Challenging Behaviors in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders

J Clin Psychopharmacol. Mar/Apr 2020;40(2):122-129. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001175.


Purpose/background: Individuals with autism spectrum disorders present with social communication deficits and a rigid adherence to sameness. Along with these symptoms, many individuals also present with severe challenging behaviors that place themselves as well as their families and communities at risk for injury. For these individuals, new and effective treatments are acutely needed. Propranolol has been used worldwide for over 50 years. Its primary indication is for hypertension, but there is evidence that, at higher doses, propranolol inhibits rage and anger through its effects on the central nervous system. This effect has been demonstrated in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Methods/procedures: Here, we present 46 retrospective analyses of clinical cases that were followed by a psychiatrist. Propranolol was prescribed as an add-on to the patients' existing medications. The doses ranged from 120 to 960 mg per day (mean = 462 mg).

Findings/results: Thirty-nine (85%) of 46 patients were found to be much improved or very much improved on the physician-rated Clinical Global Impression Improvement scale. There were few side effects noted, with only 2 subjects unable to tolerate the propranolol.

Implications/conclusions: It appears that high-dose propranolol can be given safely with minimal adverse cardiovascular problems, provided that close clinical monitoring is maintained. A more rigorous clinical trial is needed to elucidate and verify its clinical utility, clinical practice parameters, and the effects of propranolol as a monotherapy versus as an add-on to the patient's existing medication regimen.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Propranolol / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Propranolol