Recent studies indicate that compounds found in marijuana may be used to successfully treat autism.

Researchers at Stanford University say that the debilitating effects of autism are primarily caused by a gene mutation that blocks the body’s natural production of cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, and hinders the way those molecules communicate with the brain.

In the study, researchers found that the mutation of the neurologin-3 gene, which is responsible for creating and sustaining normal communication between brain cells, appears to have a direct correlation to autism -- introducing derivatives of cannabis to the brain could ease symptoms associated with the disease.

Although the exact science revolving around how a disturbance in endocannabinoid signaling contributes to autism symptoms, researchers say there is significant evidence that suggest medical marijuana may be a viable treatment option for this condition.

Researchers from the University of Irvine in California believe the folks at Stanford may be on to something: because they, too, have discovered a link between endocannabinoids and autism.

In a study of mice with fragile X syndrome, it “showed dramatic behavioral improvements in maze tests measuring anxiety and open-space acceptance.” And because THC, the active compound in marijuana, stimulates the same receptors as the endocannabinoids, researchers concluded, “increasing natural marijuana-like chemicals in the brain can help correct behavioral issues related to fragile X syndrome, the most common known genetic cause of autism.”

A recent article published in the Autism Daily Newscast indicates that many families are already experimenting with marijuana as a treatment for their children’s autism -- as an alternative to other drugs with major side effects and questionable results.

Researchers add that while they do not advocate giving medical marijuana to children with autism, they believe their findings will lead to the development of important treatments for this devastating disease.