American and European researchers have discovered that increasing natural cannabis compounds in the brain may help fix behaviour issues related to autism.
Leading the study, Daniele Piomelli of UC Irvine and Olivier Manzoni of INSERM, the French national research agency examined 2-AG, which is a cannabinoid that naturally occurs in the brain. Considered to be in a class of chemicals called endocannabinoid transmitters, these transmitters allow the transport of electrical signals at synapses, this being severely limited in patients with fragile X syndrome.
Treating mice who exhibited symptoms of fragile X syndrome the researchers were able to correct 2-AG protein signaling in the brain. Moreover, the results were that the mice showed “dramatic behavioral improvements in maze tests measuring anxiety and open-space acceptance,” UCI reports.
Piomelli said this is the first study to identify the role of naturally-occurring endocannabinoids, which share a similar chemical structure with THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. “What we hope is to one day increase the ability of people with fragile X syndrome to socialize and engage in normal cognitive functions,” said Piomelli, a UCI professor of anatomy and neurobiology.
“It would be either an oral or injected drug, but that is at the very end stage of drug discovery, and we are at the very early stage of drug development,” Kwang Mook Jung, a researcher on the study and UCI professor, told The Huffington Post.
Also, his study of endocannabinoids could result in new treatments for anxiety, pain, depression and obesity, according to UCI.
Piomelli and the other researchers are not advocating giving marijuana to individuals on the autism spectrum; they are only looking at increasing the marijuana-like chemical naturally occurring in the brain.
However, some have advocated for marijuana as a treatment for people with autism, reporting the same anxiety-reducing effects. In 2009, Mieko Hester-Perez made national headlines for giving marijuana to her then-ten-year-old son with autism, Joey. Hester-Perez said that pot changed Joey’s life. The mother said she tried countless diets and drugs on her son, with no luck, the Autism Support Network reports. Prescription drugs, such as Ritalin, gave him serious side effects, including facial ticks, seizures, liver damage and dangerous weight loss. With the marijuana cookies, his mother gives him; Joey can calmly play with toys, smile and even try to talk, according to his mother.
When another mother, D’Ette Spurgeon, saw her 20-year-old son begin smoking marijuana, she quickly accepted it as she saw that it improved his sociability, vocabulary and calmed his anxiety, according to. She said she was able to have her first conversation with her son.However, there are strong critics of giving marijuana to children and young adults. Research on the effects of marijuana on autistic children is limited, and there have been studies showing possible adverse effects of marijuana on young people. A study released last month found that teens who routinely smoke marijuana risk a long-term drop in their IQ. Earlier this month, a study found that smoking pot as a teenager can double a man’s risk of getting testicular cancer. Other researchers found that people who smoke marijuana were twice as likely to become schizophrenic than those who do not, although it is unclear if it is because of correlation or actual causation.