Marijuana plants
Marijuana plants. File photo via Wikimedia Commons

UC San Diego announced Wednesday it has received a $4.7 million gift to conduct multi-disciplinary research into whether marijuana can be helpful in treating autism.

The medical school’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research will study whether cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, holds clues for developing effective autism therapies.

The funding from the Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation is the largest private gift to date for medicinal cannabis research in the United States.

“There are unconfirmed reports that cannabidiol could be helpful, but there are no careful studies to document either its benefits or its safety,” said Igor Grant, professor of psychiatry and director of the research center.

“This gift will enable our researchers to develop and implement a translational program of research that pairs a clinical trial with detailed neurobehavioral observation, as well as basic science studies to determine if cannabidiol holds therapeutic promise, and if so, via what mechanisms,” he added.

While the causes of autism are not fully understood, a number of abnormalities have been identified in the brains of individuals with autism. Cannabidiol appears to have a number of effects on the central nervous system which may be relevant to autism, including correcting imbalances in certain neurotransmitters.

The cannabis research center was established in 2000 after passage of California Senate Bill 847, which called for a program to oversee objective, high-quality medical research to advance understanding of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.