Treating Severe Autism With A Controversial Marijuana Compound

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UC San Diego will try to alleviate severe autism in children by giving them a non-psychoactive chemical found in marijuana, a project funded by the biggest private donation ever made in the U.S. for such research.

The $4.7 million study involves the controversial compound cannabidiol, or CBD, which is widely marketed nationwide as something of a miracle drug, capable of treating everything from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Regulators believe CBD does show therapeutic promise. But they also say the miracle drug claims are wrong or based on anecdotes rather than scientific evidence.

UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) will conduct a clinical trial involving 30 autistic children with severe symptoms. The children, who will be recruited from throughout the region, will be given a liquid form of CBD that will be provided by a federally approved laboratory in Arizona. During the study, which begins next year, the children will also undergo behavioral testing, MRI scans and electroencephalograms. The patients will range in age from 8 to 12.

The university says the overall project, led by Dr. Igor Grant, “will determine if CBD is safe and tolerable and whether it alleviates adverse symptoms of ASD; determine whether and how CBD alters brain activity, neurotransmitters and/or brain network connectivity; and determine whether biomarkers or neuroinflammation are altered by CBD.”