Autism spectrum disorders are complex neurodevelopmental syndromes, marked by impaired social interaction, delayed speech, repetitive or stereotypical behaviours and poor eye contact. These symptoms are often accompanied by conditions like seizures, sleep problems, gastro-intestinal disorders, etc., which cause significant developmental, social and cognitive impacts on individuals with Autism. So, what role does medical Marijuana play in treating a complex disorder like Autism?
Epidiolex, a compound derived from marijuana, has been approved by the United States to alleviate and treat Autism traits. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had earlier sanctioned the use of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC, for treating various conditions like epilepsy and autism. In a press conference, Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner, proclaimed Epidiolex’s approval as “advancing this type of important and conscientious work.”
Orrin Devinsky, (MD, Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry and Director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU Langone Medical Center), who led clinical trials of the new drug, reported a reduction in seizure frequency. He said, “The approval of Epidiolex has changed the regulatory landscape for cannabinoid products. This will make future trials much easier and less expensive.”
Confirmation from parents of children with autism stated that cannabis did bring improvement in their symptoms. But according to Dr. Orrin Devinsky, the evidence is needed to make sure if cannabis is safe for treating autism spectrum disorder. He advised the parents not to give cannabis or any cannabis-related compounds to the kids without consulting a qualified physician. He is presently involved in the upcoming clinical trials of marijuana.
Three trials are scheduled to be conducted in the US. The aim is to check whether cannabinoids will alleviate nervousness or aggression in patients with autism.
- One trial will test for cannabidivarin’s (CBD-V) effects on 100 children with Autism for aggression and social behaviour.
- The second trial will test the effect of (cannabidiol) CBD for aggression on 30 children.
- The third trial is to track CBD’s effect for anxiety on few children having high intelligence quotients.
These trials have raised big questions about marijuana-derived compounds and the prescribed dosage needed for the best result. Xavier Castellanos, a professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University, who will lead the anxiety trial, said, “I would be surprised if it doesn’t help some kids,” he further stated, “The question is: Who? How much? And is there a right dose? There’s a lot of stuff to be learned.”
Clinical study and trials of marijuana products, for treating neurodevelopment disorders, are still underway. They need to be tested for safety and tolerability to improve the condition of children with Autism. The effect of CBD on Dravet syndrome and other forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy are also underway.