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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Defense Department Funds Research on Cannabis and Autism

In the Politics of Autism, I discuss funding of autism research:
Bureaucracies other than NIH came into play – even the Department of Defense. Starting with the 2007 defense appropriations bill, the Pentagon’s Office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs has included the Autism Research Program. Between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, NIH and ten other federal agencies awarded $1.2 billion to fund autism research projects.[i] In the meantime, private organizations such as the Simons Foundation and Autism Speaks also spent millions on autism science.[ii]
[i] U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Federal Autism Activities: Better Data and More Coordination Needed to Help Avoid the Potential for Unnecessary Duplication,” GAO 14-16, November 2013.  Online:[ii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, “2010 Autism Spectrum  Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Report,” July 2012, p. 53. Online:

A release from Montefiore Health System:
The Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded $1.3 million to fund a clinical trial at Montefiore Health System that will examine the effect of a cannabis compound called Cannabidivarin (CBDV) on irritability and repetitive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These characteristics are common in children with ASD and it is thought that the non-psychoactive and safe compound CBDV may be an effective way to address behaviors such as aggression, self-injurious behavior and tantrums.
One in 68 children has ASD. In addition to irritability and repetitive behaviors, such as rocking and hand-flapping, these children also have problems communicating. These symptoms are believed to be caused by underlying mechanisms in the brain. Since founding the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program in 2009, Eric Hollander, M.D., director, Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program and Anxiety and Depression Program at Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein, has conducted numerous clinical trials investigating the use of a variety of compounds and treatments to target these common, but challenging behaviors.
“The behavioral problems associated with ASD can cause significant burdens to children and their families,” said Dr. Hollander. “There are few medications available to treat ASD and current treatment options have substantial side effects. We are hoping that CBDV will prove to be an effective method for managing disruptive and impulsive behaviors in patients with ASD, while also targeting the mechanisms in the brain that cause the behaviors.”
The DOD spends millions of dollars on medical research every year through Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. The goal of the DOD is to support groundbreaking research that could help members of the military and their families. With so many children and families affected by ASD, the DOD recognizes the need for new and effective treatment methods. At Montefiore, the DOD grant will fund a phase two double-blind, randomized treatment trial where children with ASD aged five to 18 years old will receive either a CBDV pill or a placebo, twice daily over 12 weeks. Participants’ moods and behaviors will be measured on a standard behavioral checklist prior to and after the 12 week treatment to determine if CBDV improved both social and cognitive functioning, as it has been shown to do in animal models.
“The repetitive features of ASD are also common characteristics of a variety of other compulsive disorders, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” said Dr. Hollander. “The overarching goal of our work is to discover new ways to target the underlying causes of all of these conditions, ease the associated symptoms and ultimately improve quality of life for many, many people.”
Dr. Hollander has dedicated his career to investigating the root causes of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. He has more than 28 years of clinical and translational research experience, having been principal investigator on several federal grants and authored hundreds of research papers.