Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition estimated to affect 1 in 66 children in Canada and 1 in 270 individuals worldwide. As effective therapies for the management of ASD core and associated symptoms are limited, parents are increasingly turning to clinicians for advice regarding the use of medicinal cannabis to manage behavioural disturbances.
Objective: The objective of this scoping review was to identify and map symptoms, outcomes and adverse events related to medicinal cannabis treatment for ASD-related behaviours.
Methods: Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, PsycInfo, Web of Science Core Collection, Google Scholar and grey literature sources were searched up to 5 January 2020 for studies. Included studies met the following criteria: (1) investigate the use of medicinal cannabis, (2) at least 50% participants had ASD, (3) at least 50% of the study population was 0-18 years old and (4) any study design (published or unpublished).
Results: We identified eight completed and five ongoing studies meeting the inclusion criteria. All studies reported substantial behaviour and symptom improvement on medicinal cannabis, with 61% to 93% of subjects showing benefit. In the three studies reporting on concomitant psychotropic medication usage and with cannabis use, up to 80% of participants observed a reduction in concurrent medication use. Adverse events related to cannabis use were reported in up to 27% of participants related, and two participants had psychotic events.
Conclusions: Early reports regarding medicinal cannabis in paediatric ASD symptom management are presented as positive; the evidence, however, is limited to very few retrospective cohort and observational studies. Evidence of safety and efficacy from prospective clinical trials is needed.
Keywords: anxiety; autism spectrum disorder; behaviour; communication; hyperactivity.
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.