Scientists in Israel are conducting open clinical trials utilizing whole plant cannabis in search of an autism spectrum disorder treatment after stumbling upon a tremendous observation in an unrelated study.
Bonni Goldstein M.D., resident Marijuana.com medical expert and published author, said the early evidence shows autism is a result of genetic mutations and a deficit in the endocannabinoid system. Goldstein noted, “one case report and numerous anecdotal reports [have revealed] that cannabinoids may help some children with this disorder have better communication, less repetitive behaviors, less anxiety, and better social interaction.”
A study published in 2013 compared the number of cannabinoid receptors on blood cells in autistic children to aged-match healthy children. Researchers discovered a stark difference between children with autism and those without.
The study showed that children with autism had more cannabinoid receptors on their white blood cells — the body was essentially increasing its intake valve as a way to consume more cannabinoids. This suggests a possible cannabinoid deficiency in children with autism spectrum disorder, researchers believe their data “indicate CB2 receptor as potential therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of the autism care.”
Today, Israel-based licensed producer Better Pharmaceuticals is utilizing whole plant cannabis oil treatments in open clinical trials for children with autism.
“Autism is something that happens from birth and we don’t know why,” said Yohai Golan-Gild, founder and CTO of Better Pharmaceuticals, in an interview with Marijuana.com.
Golan-Gild added that Better Pharmaceuticals found evidence of cannabis and its potential to treat autism purely by coincidence. “We stumbled upon it by mistake. We weren’t looking at autism, we were treating epileptic children in Israel,” he said. “A lot of our epileptic children were autistic.”
As Better Pharmaceuticals was studying and treating children with epilepsy, they noticed one of their patients, a nonverbal autistic and epileptic child, started speaking for the first time. “When you are 11 or 12 years old and you haven’t said a thing your whole life, starting to speak is a very big deal,” said Golan-Gild.
The researchers paid close attention to the effects of cannabis on their autistic patients in the epilepsy study. “We started seeing a lot of information there,” said Golan-Gild.
The Israeli government gave Better Pharmaceuticals permission to observe autistic children taking medicinal cannabis. “We are [now] treating children with several types of cannabis to see which one works the best,” he said.
According to Golan-Gild, the results thus far have been incredible. “We observed children speaking for the first time, several kids, which is tremendous. We observed kids stopping to be violent, stopping to have outbursts, stopping to bang their heads and cut themselves.”
He pointed to the semblance of a normal life for his subjects. Things that most families take for granted, like riding a bus to school without a helmet, become significant achievements for kids accustomed to protective headgear and private transportation.
And while these changes may sound small, they represent an end to the struggle with episodes of violence, panic, and various other major challenges related to the disorder — the difference after cannabis can be remarkable.
But not all of Golan-Gild’s early evidence paints cannabis as the miracle many parents of autistic children know it to be. “[So far] we have learned that female autistic children do not get any benefit from any cannabis. Male children taking whole plant oil had a lot of success.”
Golan-Gild did make it clear that the study is far from complete and nothing has been published yet, but these observations are part of the initial findings.
Better Pharmaceuticals is so fascinated by the overall results, they’re beginning double-blind studies in 2018 and expanding the research to other countries. “Our plan is to duplicate [the studies] in Australia, the Czech Republic, and in Germany.”
As the potentially life-changing research continues to show promise in treating a condition that’s baffled modern medicine, Golan-Gild, as well as others on the forefront, are hopeful and cautiously optimistic their efforts will produce lasting change the world over.