Cannabis and cannabidiol use among autistic and non-autistic adults in the UK: a propensity score-matched analysis

Daniel Ying-Heng Hua, Rachel Lees, Mark Brosnan, Tom P Freeman

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OBJECTIVES: To assess whether autistic and non-autistic adults differ in their cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) use, their perceptions of cannabinoid products and their cannabinoid-related support-seeking behaviours.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey.

PARTICIPANTS: Respondents to an online survey, who self-reported an autism-spectrum disorder diagnosis (autistic participants) or no issues relating to autism (controls). Exclusion criteria were: related/subclinical issues relating to autism, non-UK residence, under 16 years old. Propensity score matching was used to match autistic participants and controls on age, gender and ethnicity. The full-sample analysis included 269 participants and the propensity-matched sample analysis included 166 participants. Propensity-matched analysis was used for primary analysis and was considered robust if supported by triangulation with full-sample analysis.

RESULTS: Autistic participants were more likely to have used CBD in the past 12 months compared with controls (OR=3.52, 95% CI 1.57 to 7.87, p=0.002). They used CBD on more days in the past 12 months (M=34, SD=93) compared with controls (M=17, SD=69, p=0.002). Autistic participants reported trusting the news and doctors less as sources of cannabinoid-related information than controls (p=0.024 and p=0.003, respectively). Autistic participants endorsed the following barriers to cannabinoid-related support seeking more than controls: 'worrying they won't understand me' (OR=3.25, 95% CI 1.67 to 6.33, p<0.001), 'going somewhere unfamiliar' (OR=5.29, 95% CI 2.62 to 10.67, p<0.001) and 'being in a crowded or chaotic place' (OR=9.79, 95% CI 4.18 to 22.89, p<0.001).

CONCLUSION: Results indicate a higher prevalence and frequency of CBD use, but not cannabis use, among autistic individuals compared with controls. Findings also suggest appropriate methods to disseminate cannabinoid-related support to autistic individuals, and indicate differences in the potential barriers autistic and non-autistic individuals may face when seeking cannabinoid-related support.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere053814
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.


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