December 11, 2017
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will soon join forces with an Australian pharmaceutical research firm to investigate the effectiveness of medical marijuana treatment in pediatric patients.
In a collaborative partnership, CHOP will work with Zelda Therapeutics to conduct an observational study on existing patients with autism, leveraging the hospital's existing research infrastructure in Philadelphia.
An initial study on key efficacy and safety measures, including bioanalytical studies, will build the foundation for a future clinical trial seeking to validate positive anecdotal data found in current patient populations.
The potential treatment link between autism and cannabis was first explored by researchers at UC Irvine, who published a study in 2000 that found cannabis could be an effective treatment for schizophrenia, Parkinson's Disease, autism and several other conditions.
In some forms of ASD, which develop predominantly in males during the first three years of life, researchers believe the conditions arise from endocannabinoid deficiency. Stanford University researchers found in a 2013 study that many symptoms of autism are caused by a gene mutation that blocks natural production of endocannabinoids and disrupts the way cannabinoids interact with the brain.
In another study, published in 2013 by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers found that immune dysfunction – a contributing factor to some forms of autism – can be caused by complications with the endocannabinoid system.
The Autism Research Institute, meanwhile, believes that proper doses of medical marijuana, used as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments, can alleviate some symptoms of autism including anxiety, aggression, panic disorder and self-injurious behavior, according to a review of the subject compiled by Whaxy.
Pennsylvania became the first state in the US to list autism among the qualifying conditions for its nascent medical marijuana program, which is on pace to fully launch in the coming year.
Zelda Therapeutics, a forerunner in medical cannabis studies, has led work on pre-clinical and clinical trials in breast, brain and pancreatic cancer, as well as insomnia and eczema. The company's first research on pharmacological cannabinoids and autism was carried out in Chile, where Zelda completed a similar observational study.
"The ultimate goal is to describe cannabinoid disposition in pediatric patients, and identify compounds that may demonstrate efficacy in the treatment of pediatric autism," Zelda Therapeutics said in a statement.
The observational study at CHOP is expected to begin early in 2018, with preliminary results anticipated within six months.