The Autism Research Institute has also made this connection. The institute found that some of the symptoms marijuana has improved in children with autism include anxiety, aggression, panic disorder, tantrums and self-injurious behavior. Martin Lee, author of Smoke Signals and founder of Project CBD said, "There's substantive body of preclinical research and some anecdotal stories. There's also some research from GW Pharmaceuticals on psychiatric disorders. It's not autism, but there are overlapping issues."
Lee is correct. GW Pharmaceutical has a Phase 2a trial underway for schizophrenia
, but nothing for Autism. GW Pharmaceutical spokesman Mark Rogerson said, "I'm afraid we have no current research going on in this area. We are aware of the interest in cannabinoid medicines and autism and our plans may change in the future. But for the time being we have a very full clinical trials programme. We are only a small company in pharmaceuticals terms and regretfully, we have to make choices among therapeutic areas."
Also See: Can Cannabis Treat Schizophrenia? GWPH Thinks So
"The rationale for this novel hypothesis arises from the discovery that the endocannabinoid system is one of the most abundant physiological control systems in animals and humans," wrote the authors of a study from William Paterson University. Adding, "It is tempting to suggest the evaluation of A9-THC or other cannabinoids with reduced psychoactivity in irritability, tantrums and self-injurious behavior associated with autistic individuals. Our data provides a basis for further studies in evaluating the role of the cannabinoid and monoaminergic systems in the etiology of ASDs."
Last year a study out of Stanford University
found signs to suggest compounds found in cannabis could help to treat autism. A 2011 study from the Second University of Naples wrote, "Our data indicate CB2 receptor as potential therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of the autism care."
On the anecdotal side, one mother founded The Unconventional Foundation for Autism when she discovered that medical marijuana helped her autistic son. A Brown University teacher Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody's Daughter, documented her autistic son's response to using Marinol, a synthetic cannabis. She switched to an edible form of cannabis and then a tea version. She calls her experiment a qualified success. There's even Cannabis for Autism Facebook page with over 12,000 likes.
Established medical groups like the Epilepsy Foundation and the American Cancer Society have urged patients to be, well, patient and wait for studies and clinical trials. But desperately ill people have moved forward without the approval of these groups and have generated a grass roots campaign for various medicinal applications for cannabis. Autism could be the next patient population to revolt against traditional, established medical foundations.
If autistic parents think GW Pharmaceutical is the answer to improving their children's lives, even a low patient pricing of $15,000 could lead to half a billion dollars. If the pricing were on the high side of $250,000 then you're looking at a $9 billion benefit.
For now, the market cap is less than a billion, and the company hasn't received U.S. drug approval. Nor have there been any large studies initiated, mostly small preclinical research and anecdotal evidence.
However, it was this anecdotal work that led to the pursuit of cannabis in treating pediatric epilepsy. If autistic children get relief from this drug, a grassroots effort by parents will drive a push for more studies and potentially a treatment.
Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.