The medical cannabis industry is at an interesting crossroads. Despite the fact that new studies are being conducted around the country, pointing to a slew of potential medical benefits, research departments at hospitals and medical schools are ham-strung by the fact that federal funding is still not available for these types of projects. Institutions are finding themselves dependent on donations and funding from the private sector and philanthropic organizations to get these projects off the ground.
One such example of this is the recent donation made by the Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation to the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California, San Diego. The donation, for $4.7 million, is the largest private gift given to medical marijuana research in the United States. The donation will fund a project by the CMCR to study the use of cannabidiol (CBD) compounds to treat autism. CBD, which has been getting a lot of attention recently for potential medical benefits, is a non-pyschoactive ingredient in marijuana. In layman’s terms, that means that it doesn’t get you high.
The university’s study, slated to begin in 2019, will focus on serve autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which affects about one in every 68 children in the United States. As of this writing, the plan is to have 30 children in the clinical trial, between the ages of 8 to 12 years old, who have moderate to sever autism, and are otherwise in good physical health. The study has identified three main goals: 1) to determine if CBD is safe and tolerable and whether it helps with the symptoms of ASD (this seems like a logical starting point); 2) to determine whether and how CBD alters neurotransmitters and/or improves brain connectivity; and 3) to determine whether biomarkers of neuro-inflammation, also associated with ASD, are altered by CBD. Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, told the San Diego Union Tribune that there are parents who “swear that this is effective—but it needs to undergo scientific research.
Autism is one of these developmental complications that researchers still do not fully understand. However, some of the symptoms of ASD include lower levels of serotonin, the mood-regulating brain chemical, and irregular organization of the patient’s brain networks. There have been several studies that show CBD has the ability to elevate mood and memory, and correct neurotransmitters. However, up until now, these claims have not been fully studied in a rigorous academic setting. Igor Grant, the director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Research, said that the study will allow for researchers to explore both the positive and negative effects of CBD as it relates to ASD.
Hopefully, the results will be positive, and it will give the medical marijuana industry yet-another leg to stand on as the debate around the validity of medical marijuana’s benefits—and the Federal government’s stance on the substance—continues.