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A preclinical study published in Nature indicates that cannabidiol (CBD)-enriched medical cannabis therapy may potentially bode well for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers at Tel Aviv University determined that CBD-enriched cannabis therapy improved “repetitive and anxiety behaviors, but not social deficits” in mice with the autism-associated InsG3680 Shank3 mutation. The scientists also found that the treatment led to cerebellar changes in mRNA expression of several neurotransmission-related genes.

The scientists, however, questioned whether CBD enrichment of medical cannabis would be effective in treating core ASD symptoms, highlighting the possible role of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in treating ASD symptoms.

Interest in cannabis-based therapies for autism spectrum disorder has grown in recent years as consumer interest in CBD has exploded.

Rigorous medical data on cannabis derivatives remains lacking. In the Nature article, the Israeli researchers cite a “notable absence of basic preclinical research in the field.”

Nevertheless, interest is on the upswing. In 2018, the FDA approved the CBD drug Epidiolex from GW Pharmaceuticals as a treatment for seizures in patients at least one year of age with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex.

The agency has also approved three synthetic cannabis-related drug products.

In 2019, Frontiers in Neurology published a small study evaluating the use of cannabis extract in ASD patients, including some patients who also had epilepsy. For non-epileptic patients, patients showed “comprehensive” improvement with fewer adverse events than expected from current therapies. The study authors concluded, “These preliminary results indicate, therefore, the urgent need for more extensive and detailed clinical studies to further validate the use of [cannabis extracts] and cannabinoids for the treatment of severe ASD symptoms.”

To date, the pharmaceutical industry has viewed cannabinoids with suspicion — in part given its illegal status at the federal level in the U.S.

In September, the House Judiciary Committee cleared the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. More recently, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to decriminalize cannabis, a move that could fuel drug developers’ interest in developing new cannabinoid therapies.

That may be beginning to change. Earlier this year, Jazz Pharmaceuticals (NSDQ:JAZZ) announced it would acquire a UK-based cannabinoid therapeutic firm GW Pharmaceuticals for roughly $7.2 billion (£5.27 billion).