New research suggests that a decades-old drug can alleviate anxiety issues in kids and young adults with autism.

Individuals on the spectrum who took the blood pressure medication propranolol exhibited significantly less anxiety after three months compared to those given a placebo, according to findings published recently in the journal Psychopharmacology.

For the study, 69 participants with autism between the ages of 7 and 24 were randomly assigned to take propranolol or a placebo. They were assessed at the outset and then again after 12 weeks.

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The researchers found that anxiety declined in those in the propranolol group, but no changes were observed in social communication skills.

“The findings show that propranolol could serve as a helpful intervention for reducing anxiety for individuals with autism,” said David Beversdorf, a clinician at the University of Missouri’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment who led the study. “This drug has been around since the 1960s and is very inexpensive.”

There is significant interest in identifying medications that can help address symptoms associated with autism. To date, only two drugs — the antipsychotics risperidone and aripripazole — have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat irritability associated with the condition.

“Up until now, we haven’t had any known drugs that target psychiatric issues specifically for individuals with autism, so these results are very promising and can support future research,” Beversdorf said.

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