Israeli doctors are taking the lead in cannabis once again. In a first-of-a-kind study, a pediatrician is testing whether or not cannabis helps those with autism. There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence floating around about the benefits of the herb, but no previous studies have looked into these claims. This Israeli research is a vital step toward future treatment with the herb.
A much-needed study
Dr. Adi Aran, head of the pediatric neurology department at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem wants to look at the way cannabis affects autism in children and adults.
Aran is currently seeking permission from the Israeli Ministry of Health to test the herb’s effects in 120 patients with low to moderate functioning autism. The age of participants will span from 4 years old to 30.
Though many anecdotal reports have found success with psychoactive THC, Aran’s study will look at non-psychoactive CBD. The research will focus on behavioral symptoms. Aggressive tendencies and acute anxiety will be two of the factors evaluated in the study.
Cannabis has not yet been approved in Israel for the treatment of autism. Yet, the plant has already been prescribed to a few patients with severe symptoms.
If approved, Aran’s research will not only be of value to Israeli patients but to patients around the world. In the United States, activist groups like Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) have been fighting for the herb since 2014.
While medical cannabis is approved for autism in a couple of states, the condition is overlooked by the majority. A clinical trial in humans may be a major step toward legitimizing cannabis treatments.
Good evidence for success
Though most of the information about cannabis and autism is anecdotal, there are a few reasons to believe that the herb has therapeutic potential for the condition. In Israel, medical cannabis can be prescribed to children with epilepsy. About 30% of patients with autism also have epilepsy.
When treated with medical cannabis, Israeli researchers found that those with epilepsy and autism had improved behavioral symptoms.
It was this observation that partly inspired Aran to go forward with the current study. Yet, cellular and animal research also hints toward success with cannabis. Back in 2013, researchers found dysfunctions in cannabinoid receptors on immune cells in children with autism.
No one knows exactly what causes autism, but rates are rapidly rising. There is evidence that suggests that the condition may be caused in part by disruptions in the immune system. If this is the case, cannabis may hold potential for due to the herb’s ability to quite down a hyperactive immune response.
Though, we’re a long way off from discovering the active mechanism of cannabinoids in autism.
Aran’s study has yet to be given official approval, but parents and patients around the world are hopeful. While those with very severe forms of autism can access medical cannabis in some regions, this research is the first to look at the herb for both low and medium functioning cases.
If approved, we won’t see results for quite a while. But, until then, it’s comforting to know that the topic is finally getting some attention.