Marijuana-Like Chemical May Help Treat Autism Symptoms

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Natural marijuana-like chemicals in the brain may help correct behavioral issues related to autism, according to new research.

Scientists discovered that increasing those chemicals can help repair the debilitating symptoms associated with Fragile X syndrome, which is the most common known genetic cause of autism.

Daniele Piomelli of UC Irvine and Olivier Manzoni of INSERM, the French national research agency, led the study focused on the treatments of anxiety and cognitive defects in individuals with Fragile X syndrome.

The condition results from a mutation in the FMR1 gene on the female X chromosome. Men possess one copy of the chromosome, paired with a male Y chromosome, and women two.

Researchers examined 2-AG, which naturally occurs in the brain and is in a class of chemicals called endocannabinoid transmitters.  They treated mice that exhibited symptoms of Fragile X syndrome with novel compounds that correct 2-AG protein signaling in the brain.

According to a press release by UC Irvine, the mice showed “dramatic behavioral improvements in maze tests measuring anxiety and open-space acceptance.”

Piomelli and the other researchers are certainly not advocating giving marijuana to individuals on the autism spectrum, rather they are exploring the possibility of increasing the marijuana-like chemical that already occurs in the brain.

However, a couple in Oregon did make headlines this past month for using using medical marijuana to calm their severely autistic son’s violent rages. 

Alex Echols, 11, would suffer episodes in which he would headbutt walls until his entire face was black and blue. His parents placed him Oregon’s medical marijuana program, and began his treatment in 2010. They say that in just a few months they have noticed a dramatic difference in their son.

What do you think? Are there any circumstances where you would allow your child to be given medical marijuana?

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