New Study Will Explore Medical Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism

Despite a near-ban on medical cannabis research federally, a private donation will fund work on autism treatment in California.
New Study Will Explore Medical Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism
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Many people have talked about the need for more research into the potential of medical marijuana. But a foundation in California is backing the talk.

The Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation has given $4.7 million, the largest private gift ever for medical marijuana research in the United States, to fund research at the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California, San Diego, on the use of cannabidiol (CBD) compounds to treat autism. CBD is a chemical ingredient in marijuana that is non-psychoactive. In other words, it doesn’t cause the “high” feel.

Related: Bipartisan Concern for Veterans Drives Bill to Allow VA to Research Medical Marijuana

Severe Autism Spectrum Disorder

The university plans to focus on severe autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which the  CMCR said affects about one in every 68 children, especially boys. Symptoms include seizures and crippling anxiety. The 30 children in the clinical trial, all between 8-12 years old, will have a diagnosis of moderate to severe autism. Otherwise, they will be in good health. The study will begin in 2019. The study has three main goals:

  • Determine if CBD is safe and tolerable and whether it helps with the symptoms of ASD
  • Determine whether and how CBD alters neurotransmitters and/or improves brain connectivity
  • Determine whether biomarkers of neuro-inflammation, also associated with ASD, are altered by CBD

Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, told the San Diego Union Tribune that there are parents who “swear that this is effective -- but it needs to undergo scientific research.”

Related: A Closer Look at the Cannabis Market

Federal Roadblocks

Because marijuana is a Schedule I illegal drug under federal law, research into marijuana has been infrequent in the U.S. The university got around this roadblock by going directly to the private foundation for the grant money.

The Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation was founded by the late CEO of Norvell Technology, Ray Noorda, and his wife, Tye. Noorda ran Norvell from 1982 to 1994. The foundation partnered on the donation with Wholistic Research and Education Foundation.

Researchers do not yet understand the exact causes of autism. But some of the symptoms include lower levels of the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin and irregular organization of the patient’s brain networks. Some studies to have found CBD can correct neurotransmitters and enhance the activity of neurotransmitters that elevate mood and enhance memory. Igor Grant, CMCR director, said that the study will finally give researchers a chance to study both the positive and negative effects of CBD.

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