Introduction: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, associated with the presence of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Cannabis has been used to alleviate symptoms associated with ASD.
Method: We carried out a systematic review of studies that investigated the clinical effects of cannabis and cannabinoid use on ASD, according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA checklist). The search was carried out in four databases: MEDLINE/PubMed, Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), Scopus, and Web of Science. No limits were established for language during the selection process. Nine studies were selected and analyzed.
Results: Some studies showed that cannabis products reduced the number and/or intensity of different symptoms, including hyperactivity, attacks of self-mutilation and anger, sleep problems, anxiety, restlessness, psychomotor agitation, irritability, aggressiveness perseverance, and depression. Moreover, they found an improvement in cognition, sensory sensitivity, attention, social interaction, and language. The most common adverse effects were sleep disorders, restlessness, nervousness and change in appetite.
Conclusion: Cannabis and cannabinoids may have promising effects in the treatment of symptoms related to ASD, and can be used as a therapeutic alternative in the relief of those symptoms. However, randomized, blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials are necessary to clarify findings on the effects of cannabis and its cannabinoids in individuals with ASD.
Systematic review registration: International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO), code 164161.
Keywords: Cannabis; autism; cannabidiol; cannabinoid; systematic review.