Changes in quality of life shown in patients with autism spectrum disorder enrolled on the UK medical cannabis registry

  • New, published research shows changes in sleep, anxiety, and general health-related quality of life
  • The study is the first of its kind to focus on adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Findings pave the way for randomised control trials to “further the understanding of the effects of medical cannabis for adult patients with ASD”

A new study published in the Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology (TPP) Journal has found that those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) enrolled on the UK Medical Cannabis Registry experienced an associated improvement in quality of life. ASD is a neurological development disorder which affects an estimated 700,000 people in the UK . Those with ASD commonly face challenges because of additional associated symptoms, including severe anxiety and insomnia.

This research from UK Medical Cannabis Registry (UKMCR) run by Sapphire Medical Clinics showed that anxiety was reduced, sleep and associated symptoms improved, alongside overall health-related quality of life. To our knowledge, this is the first observational study of its kind that has focused on the impact on adults with ASD (mean age 32.7 years) of receiving care at a medical cannabis clinic.

The researchers analysed self-reported outcome data from 74 patients with ASD, drawn from the Generalised Anxiety Disorder scale, the Single-Item Sleep Quality Scale (SQS) and the EQ-5D-5L Quality of Life scale, at 1, 3, and 6 months, compared to baseline.

There were significant improvements in health-related quality of life, as well as anxiety and sleep at 1 and 3 months, with sustained changes in the EQ-5D-5L and SQS at 6 months (p<0.010). The EQ-5D-5L scale measures five factors: mobility, ability to self-care, ability to undertake usual activities, and the degree of pain/discomfort, and anxiety/depression

There are currently very limited treatment options for people with ASD, and medications that are used are often not well-evidenced and present a significant and ongoing burden of side-effects for some.

The study found that there was a reduction in the use of these medications, some of which are associated with serious adverse consequences with long-term use. For example, there was a 33% and 25% reduction in the prescription of benzodiazepines and antipsychotics, respectively.

The study also monitored and evaluated the frequency of adverse events. 18.9% of participants experienced an adverse event, which were commonly mild or moderate, rather than severe.

Dr James Rucker, consultant psychiatrist at Sapphire Medical Clinics and a senior author on the study commented, “Adults with ASD face an array of challenging symptoms associated with the condition, which can have a devastating impact on their quality of life. The goal of here is not to modify the core traits of autism. These can be valuable and invariably form a core part of a person’s identity. Rather, the goal is to alleviate the burden of associated symptoms, including debilitating generalised and social anxiety, severe insomnia, repetitive and distressing patterns of thought, and the emotional distress that can often occur in response to rapid change.

“The results of this study reflect my clinical experience. However, there is a lack of clinical trial evidence available that informs us all objectively. These findings present a significant step forward for research in this area, although they form only the first step in a longer and more rigorous process of evaluation. Based in part on the results of this study, we have applied for grant funding for a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of CBMPs in those with ASD who also suffer with anxiety and insomnia. If funded, this trial may be a significant advance in the quest to develop new interventions for this group of people.”

Dr Simon Erridge, Head of Research and Access at Sapphire Medical Clinics and lead author of study commented, “These findings, whilst promising, do highlight the fact that further evaluation is required to improve our understanding of the potential effects of medical cannabis for adults with autism spectrum disorder. Essential to this is a commitment to RCTs to inform guidelines and day to day care for those with ASD.”

Erridge S et al. Clinical Outcome Analysis of Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder–Analysis from the UK Medical Cannabis Registry. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. 2022 Jul 11.

https://www.bma.org.uk/what-we-do/population-health/improving-the-health-of-specific-groups/autism-spectrum-disorder