San Diego researchers will use a $4.7 million gift to examine a cannabis plant extract as a treatment for severe autism.
The largest gift to date for medicinal cannabis research in the U.S. was awarded to the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, the center announced Wednesday.
Researchers hope to discover whether medicinal cannabinoid therapies can alleviate symptoms in children with severe autism.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis. The product does not make a person or a child high.
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Researchers believe CBD affects the central nervous system in a way that may be relevant to autism ranging from correcting brain or mood imbalances to modulating cognitive processes.
The clinical study will be led by Doris Trauner, MD, a professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Neurosciences at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Thirty children between 8 and 12 years old with a confirmed diagnosis of moderate to severe autism will be included in the trial set to begin around the end of 2018.
The grant was provided by Utah-based Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation.
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Amy Munera with the Autism Society of San Diego is pleased there is legitimate research going into the potential for using the drug to treat children living with autism.
"A lot of the early research looks promising but there's not enough of it," Munera said.
Igor Grant, M.D. works with UC San Diego and said he feels researchers owe it to the parents and the kids to see if there's a positive effect.
"I have seen how challenging this is and how important it is that we find some additional ways to help these families," Grant said.
However, he cautions parents to wait for research to lead the way.
"I'm optimistic but let's also be realistic," he said.
"I mean, don't just jump on a trend."
The CMCR at UC San Diego is also involved in other studies of medical cannabis including the potential for treating pain and bipolar disorder as well as the effects on driving.