Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often associated with debilitating sleep disturbances. While anecdotal evidence suggests the positive effect of cannabinoids, randomized studies are lacking. Here, we report the effects of cannabinoid treatment on the sleep of 150 children and adolescents with ASD, as part of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that assessed the impact of cannabinoid treatment on behavior (NCT02956226). Participants were randomly assigned to one of the following three treatments: (1) whole-plant cannabis extract, containing cannabidiol (CBD) and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a 20:1 ratio, (2) purified CBD and THC extract in the same ratio, and (3) an oral placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment (Period 1) and a 4-week washout period, participants crossed over to a predetermined, second 12-week treatment (Period 2). Sleep disturbances were assessed using the Children's Sleep-Habit Questionnaire (CSHQ). We found that the CBD-rich cannabinoid treatment was not superior to the placebo treatment in all aspects of sleep measured by the CSHQ, including bedtime resistance, sleep-onset delay, and sleep duration. Notably, regardless of the treatment (cannabinoids or placebo), improvements in the CSHQ total score were associated with improvements in the autistic core symptoms, as indicated by the Social Responsiveness Scale total scores (Period 1: r = 0.266, p = 0.008; Period 2: r = 0.309, p = 0.004). While this study failed to demonstrate that sleep improvements were higher with cannabinoids than they were with the placebo treatment, further studies are required.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; cannabidiol; cannabinoids; child psychiatry; clinical trials; developmental disorders; randomized controlled; sleep; tetrahydrocannabinol.