In pioneering study, Israeli researchers target autism with cannabis
Sitting on cushions in the corner of a brightly decorated room in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, 11-year-old Eitan anxiously watched the sliding door leading to the hallway outside. Each time someone entered the room, he rushed past the hanging mobiles and flowers painted on the walls to make sure the door was shut securely
Eitan was at the hospital with his parents to receive extracts of cannabis that researchers hope will help treat his severe autism. The project, which will test the effects of cannabinoids on 120 autistic children and young adults, is the first of its kind worldwide, said Dr. Adi Aran, the director of the hospital’s neuropediatric unit. The study is made possible by Israel’s progressive approach to research on cannabis and has generated interest in the scientific community and among families of children with autism
“Our waiting lists are full. Many, many families want to participate and they come from all over Israel,” Aran said. “They hope and they heard from their friends and other families that it might help.”
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder whose symptoms include impaired communication and social skills, and compulsive and repetitive behaviors. The disease usually appears in infancy or early childhood, and can be debilitating. Eitan, for instance, cannot speak at all. The causes of the disease are poorly understood and there is no known cure. It affects roughly one percent of the population in Israel and worldwide, Aran said.
Most autistic children are currently treated with antipsychotic medications, which are not always effective and can have harmful side effects. Eitan’s father, Aviv, said that Eitan became obese after previous medications caused him to eat compulsively. Some medications aggravate him and cause him to throw tantrums, Aviv said.
Photo: Jack Guez/AFP