Anxiety, Common to Fragile X and Like Disorders, Might Be Eased with CBD Gel, Study Finds

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Zygel severe FXS

Many behaviors are shared by people with fragile X syndrome (FXS), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22qDS), and particularly common is high levels of anxiety, new research shows.

Data from a clinical trial in FXS patients also suggest that an investigative cannabidiol gel might help to ease such “social anxiety and associated behavioral manifestations.”

The research was presented at the 22nd Society for the Study of Behavioural Phenotypes (SSBP) Research Symposium in the poster, “Common Behavioral Features of Autism, Fragile X Syndrome, and 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome.

“Those of us who care for patients and families contending with certain neuropsychiatric dysfunction understand that there are significant shared sociobehavioral symptoms between such disorders,” Honey Heussler, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia and one of the researchers who presented the poster, said in a press release.

“[U]ntil now no review has been conducted to examine or clarify the overlap,” Heussler added.

Researchers reviewed scientific literature, looking for these overlaps. They also looked at data for how common behaviors in these symptoms might be treated with cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis that has garnered a lot of scientific and industry research in recent years.

This review was funded by Zynerba Pharmaceuticals, the developer of Zygel (ZYN002), a cannabidiol gel placed on the skin that a study found to ease anxiety and other behavioral symptoms in children and teenagers with fragile X.

Among the review’s stated objectives was “to suggest a possible role for CBD in the management of these shared symptoms.”

The team found that FXS, ADS, and 21qDS share a number of behaviors, particularly anxiety, social avoidance, and attention problems. They noted that many of these behaviors seem to stem from anxiety; being more anxious could lead a person to avoid social situations that can induce anxiety.

Further supporting this, anxiety was a common symptom; for example, one study of children with FXS that was reviewed reported that more than 80% of participants had an anxiety disorder, most often a phobia.

The researchers also found evidence that CBD was found to significantly reduce anxiety in some early trials in people. This includes data from the Phase 1/2 open-label FAB-C (ACTRN12617000150347, which stands for “Treatment of Fragile X Syndrome Anxiety and Behavioral Challenges with CBD”) study that evaluated the safety and efficacy of Zygel in children and adolescents with fragile X.

“Preliminary evidence shows that CBD improves social anxiety and associated behavioral manifestations suggesting that CBD may prove to be effective in managing the spectrum of behavioral symptoms associated with these conditions,” the researchers wrote.

“These data on the shared behaviors between ASD, FXS and 22qDS are important to understanding disease impact, patient care, and the development of potential treatments,” Heussler said. “One such potential treatment being studied in well-controlled clinical trials is a proprietary gel formulation of CBD, which has diverse pharmacologic effects and may prove to be important in these neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Two of this study’s three researchers are employees of Zynerba Pharmaceuticals, and Heussler reports having received research support from the company.