In December of 2017, it was announced that the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) will be partnering with an Australian pharmaceutical company to conduct research on the impact of medical cannabis on autism; this could be considered the U.S.’ first large-scale, comprehensive study of this nature.
The Australian company, Zelda Therapeutics, is a leading research firm specializing in the study of medical cannabis; they state on their website, “We believe that by investing in rigorous research and clinical trials we can generate significant value for all stakeholders as the world reacquaints itself with this ancient medicine.” This mission statement is a welcomed ray of light in an otherwise dim world of medicinal cannabis research.
The study will be strictly observational—no medicinal cannabis will be supplied to participants. Rather, researchers are building a pool of participants by seeking out those who are already covered under Pennsylvania’s Safe Harbor act.
This study was actually only made possible by a Philadelphia local, Erica Daniels, who is a mother to a child with autism; like many others, she tried various medications as ways of treatment for her son before discovering the impressiveness of medical cannabis. Daniels is the founder of Hope Grows for Autism, an advocacy group whose mission, according to their website, is to “IMPROVE the LIVES of FAMILIES affected by AUTISM through research, education and advocacy of medical cannabis treatment.”
Medical Cannabis and Autism
As it stands, autism is one of the lesser researched conditions in relation to its treatment with medical cannabis. However, there have been some important pieces of information dug up over the past years in support of the relationship. According to a study published in Neuron in 2013, many major symptoms of autism may be caused by inhibited endocannabinoid signaling due to mutations in neuroligins and neurexins.
Briefly, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of a collection of cell receptors throughout the body, mainly in the brain and nervous system. The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in multiple facets of the human body such as mood, sleep, appetite, motor function, memory, and so on. If this is the case, and a major contributor to autism is an endocannabinoid deficiency, might autism have met its match in cannabis-derived medicines? Patients will just have to wait and see what this study produces, though if it’s anything like the anecdotal evidence thus far, things are looking bright.
The Study’s Significance
This study proves to be one huge step in the right direction for medical cannabis research in the U.S. Especially in terms of research on autism, there’s a surprising and concerning lack of it worldwide; most evidence currently on the market supporting the use of cannabis for the treatment of autism is strictly anecdotal. Hopefully, with the implementation of this study—right on PA soil, nonetheless—CHOP and Zelda will be able to lay productive groundwork that will pave the way for future clinical trials. Hopefully with this first step underway, concrete, analytical evidence will be soon to follow all the anecdotal evidence circulating around the internet.