A clinical trial investigating the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) on children and young adults with autism is expected to last through the end of 2018.
Pediatric neurologist Dr. Adi Aran believes his first-of-its kind clinical trial will offer much-needed scientific data on whether cannabidiol (CBD) is effective for treating autism in children and young adults. While preclinical findings and anecdotal evidence suggest the non-psychoactive cannabis-derived compound could be beneficial, Aran didn’t feel comfortable recommending it for his patients without its efficacy being demonstrated in humans.
“Many parents were asking for cannabis for their kids,” Aran told USA Today. “First I said, ‘No, there’s no data to support cannabis for autism, so we can’t give it to you.”
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a complex developmental disorder that impacts the nervous system and causes repetitive behavior and impaired communication and social interaction. It typically emerges during infancy or early childhood years. Affecting approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States, the disorder often leads to additional health issues, such as seizures, anxiety, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal distress.
Treatments for autism typically involve a combination of behavioral treatments and medicines for helping manage high energy, focus issues, depression, and seizures. There are no medications that cure autism or even treat the disease’s main symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Almost all of the patients in Aran’s study have tried other medications, and about half have experienced a negative response. CBD, which is non-psychoactive and shown to have an excellent safety profile, could be an ideal treatment option for children.
With Aran’s patients desperate for answers for their autistic children and preclinical studies showing promise for CBD and autism, he conducted an observational study on 70 of his own autistic patients. Many of the children demonstrated significant improvements on CBD. Some no longer threw tantrums or hurt themselves, and some were more communicative. The positive results led to him conducting this two-year clinical trial, which is taking place at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Aran’s pioneering study, which launched in January after obtaining approval from Israel’s Minister of Health, involves 120 patients aged five to 29 with mild to severe autism. Participants are given either one of two different cannabis oil formulas, or a placebo, in a liquid drop form.
“Our waiting lists are full. Many, many families want to participate and they come from all over Israel,” Aran told the Times of Israel. “They hope and they heard from their friends and other families that it might help.”
Israel continues to lead the way in cannabis research. The Israeli government announced in January that it would be funding over a dozen research projects on cannabis. Just last month, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced the opening of its research center, the Multidisciplinary Center of Cannabinoid Research, which will focus specifically on cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and medical cannabis. Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since 1992, three years before the first U.S. state, California, approved medicinal cannabis in 1992.