Researchers at the University of California at San Diego plan to study whether CBD oil can be of help for children with autism.
CBD (cannabidiol) is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis (distinct from THC, which can make people high), and has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for epilepsy. Now researchers believe it may also have the potential to help some behavioral issues associated with autism.
Though the effect of CBD on autism hasn’t been studied directly there’s evidence that CBD’s mode of action — its ability to block CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain — can relieve seizures and memory issues in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome, a condition related to autism, according to a 2013 study in Nature Medicine.
A 2018 clinical trial of a synthetic CBD drug by the drug maker Zynerba showed significant improvements in anxiety and other behavioral traits in people with fragile X.
The goal of the San Diego study is to determine whether CBD reduces problem behaviors in 7-14 year-old autistic children. According to the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Doris Trauner, a pediatric neurologist and professor of neuroscience at UCSD’s School of Medicine, 30 boys will be recruited for the first phase of the study, and girls will be added in a later phase.
Separating girls from boys is important, as boys are diagnosed four times more commonly than girls as having autism or autism spectrum disorder, and symptoms may be different between the two groups.
Trauner said the behaviors the study will target are “specifically aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behavior [and] persistent repetitive behaviors — what are called stereotypic behaviors,” such as shaking or other repetitive movement that interferes with their ability to function.
“What we’re trying to identify is whether CBD reduces the problem with behaviors and then, in turn, whether that could improve their ability to function,” Trauner said.
The double blind crossover study design will mean all the children will be taking CBD, but they won’t know when.
Participants will undergo several tests, including an autism diagnostic screen language testing and nonverbal testing along with MRI scans of the brain.
Parents will be also asked to fill out questionnaires about their children’s behavior.
The strict parameters and frequency of medical testing also will help Trauner and her team watch for side effects from CBD, which “is not a benign drug.” People can mistakenly believe that because it is plant-derived, “it must be safe,” Trauner added.
A separate trial being run by GW Pharmaceuticals is currently testing another cannabinoid called cannabidivarin, in children and teenagers with autism. That trial is also examining the effect of cannabis on traits including repetitive behaviors in autistic children, and also on quality of life.
Sources: La Jolla Light