Marijuana-Like Brain Chemical May Fight Autism

By McCarton Ackerman 09/28/12

A natural brain chemical similar to THC may help reduce behavioral issues related to autism, a study finds.

Our brains make their own version of the
pot-molecule THC. Trippy!
Photo via

Marijuana-like chemicals in the brain may help reduce some of the behavioral issues related to autism, a new study suggests. Researchers led by Daniele Piomelli of UC Irvine and Olivier Manzoni of INSERM, the French national research agency, treated mice that exhibited symptoms of fragile X syndrome, the most common known genetic cause of autism. The mice were given a class of chemicals called endocannabinoid transmitters, which occur naturally in the brain. These transmitters facilitate the efficient transport of electrical signals at synapses, which is severely limited in people with fragile X syndrome. According to Piomelli, this is the first study to identify the role of naturally-occuring 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," he says. The researchers involved don't advocate giving marijuana to children with autism, but are rather focusing on ways to boost levels of this marijuana-like chemical that occurs naturally in the brain. "It would be either an oral or injected drug but that’s at the very end stage of drug discovery, and we are at the very early stage of drug discovery," says Kwang Mook Jung, another professor at UC Irvine involved in the study. But some parents have already spoken out about the benefits of giving actual marijuana to their autistic offspring, claiming it improves their sociability while lowering anxiety and negative behaviors. Research on the effects of marijuana on autistic children is limited.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.