A New York clinical trial will study the effects of the cannabis compound cannabidivarin, or CBDV, on patients with autism, according to a report from CNN. The study at the Montefiore Medical Center will examine the effects of CBDV on irritability and repetitive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder.
Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program and Anxiety and Depression Program at Montefiore Hospital and the lead researcher on the study, told CNN that previous research has shown that CBDV may have potential as a treatment for autism spectrum disorders.
“In some of the animal models that are similar to autism, it was found that CBDV had important effects on social functioning, on decreasing seizures, on increasing cognitive function, and in reducing compulsive or repetitive behavior,” Hollander said. “So for that reason, we wanted to apply that to autism.”
The CBDV formulation being used in the study is produced in the U.K. by GW Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the only FDA-approved cannabis medicine Epidiolex. The drug has been approved for use in the U.S. and European Union to treat two serious disorders that cause childhood epilepsy. Dr. Geoffrey Guy, the founder of GW, said that epilepsy and autism share some common symptoms.
“When you look at these—loss of cognitive function, poor socializing skills, poor language skills—what you’re looking at is a phenotype very similar to autism,” Guy told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview for the CNN special “Weed 5: The CBD Craze.” “In my mind, epilepsy and autism-type presentations are on the same continuum.”
Holand believes that autism and epilepsy may have similar underlying causes and says that CBDV has shown some success treating seizure disorders, giving him hope it may also be effective for autism patients.
“There’s some abnormal electrical activity even though they don’t have seizures, for example,” Hollander told Gupta. “And we had previously shown that when we give anticonvulsants that decrease the electrical activity, or the spikes, some of the disruptive behaviors, or the irritability, actually get better.”
“And that was one of our thoughts, why this CBDV could be helpful,” Hollander added. “Because if it helps with epilepsy and it helps in terms of decreasing the spike activity, we might also get improvement in the some of the aggression, or the self-injury, or the temper tantrums.”
Some Experts Wary About Cannabis
Dr. Alexander Kolevzon, the clinical director of the Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai who is not involved in the study, said that while he is encouraged by the potential of cannabis-based medications, it is still too early to tell if it’s an effective medication for patients with autism spectrum disorder.
“The field of autism has a long history of enthusiasm for many treatments based on small pilot studies and anecdotal accounts,” Kolevzon said. “However, often when these treatments are tested rigorously in larger studies, the benefits are not significantly different than that of placebo.”
Montefiore Medical Center is currently recruiting volunteers to participate in the study. Participants must be children 5 to 18 years old with autism spectrum disorder.