Anyone who remembers smoking marijuana for the first time can probably agree that there is a near perfect storm hovering in the midst long before any signs of a head change ever come to light. There is the build up, generated mostly by friends, and complete strangers, the roar of excitement once that one guy who has a friend who knows a dealer finally walks through the door with a fat sack of weed in his pocket, and the fantastic aroma of the bud as it gets passed around the room while some other dude rolls up a couple of hog legs. The entire experience from sober to high is what leads some novices-of-the-numb to evolve into full-blown cannabis aficionados. You either appreciate the dance or you don’t. For those who do, it almost seems as though they have a genetic predisposition for enjoying cannabis. And according to a new study, they just might.
A group of scientific minds recently banded together to examine the genetic data of 23 and Me volunteers. The results, which were published in Nature Neuroscience, uncovered around 35 genes that they claim makes a person more prone to “lifetime cannabis use.”
This was not just one of those limited explorations into the subject, either, where a team of paid geeks looks at a handful of people for a month and then writes some paper that is largely exaggerated by the media. Researchers put 180,000 respondents from all walks of life under the microscope to arrive at this conclusion — making it the largest study of its kind to explore the human code and its connection to cannabis.
But there is a dark side to the study. It seems that there is some bizarre, unknown connection between cannabis use and schizophrenia. Scientists were unable to explain the genetic link. All that could be made clear was that people with the variants for cannabis use were also in the same ranks as those at risk for schizophrenia.
It is important to clarify that the study does not suggest that smoking weed causes this savage mental disorder, only that there is some kind of connection. Researchers found that “genetic variants impacting cannabis use partially impact other psychological or psychiatric features as well.”
However, in the interest of full disclosure, there is evidence that “elimination of cannabis use would reduce the incidence of schizophrenia by approximately 8 percent.” This phenomenon, while not thoroughly understood, seems to be mostly attributed to the effects of THC on young, developing minds. But it is not a common occurrence.
“Although the majority of young people are able to use cannabis in adolescence without harm, a vulnerable minority experience harmful outcomes,” the study authors wrote.
Yet, a separate study, published this month in the journal Medicines, shows that some parts of the cannabis plant, namely the non-intoxicating compound cannabidiol (CBD), may serve as a treatment for people with schizophrenia. The compound seems to work as an antipsychotic by protecting the brain against THC-induced psychosis.
“Emerging research suggests that cannabis can be used as a treatment for schizophrenia within a broader etiological perspective that focuses on environmental, autoimmune, and neuroinflammatory causes of the disorder, offering a fresh start and newfound hope for those suffering from this debilitating and poorly understood disease,” the study authors concluded.
Other studies exploring cannabis use and schizophrenia have also discovered links between the two. But, much like the latest results, these explorations have found “stronger evidence that schizophrenia risk predicts cannabis use, rather than the other way round.”
Although the 23 and Me study did present some interesting results, predicting that someone is destined to become a cannabis user based on genetics is about as solid as placing a bet on a horse simply by reviewing the tip sheet in the front of the racing program.
Study authors admit that their findings “helped to explain approximately 11 percent of the differences in cannabis use between people.” That is hardly enough to pinpoint, without a shadow of a doubt, whether a person is going to end up regular user — or become schizophrenic.
Still, the concept of using genetics to gauge a general predisposition for cannabis use makes sense. The human body is equipped with an endocannabinoid system, which is a group of cannabinoid receptors found, not only in the brain, but throughout the body that allows us to experience a multitude of effects from the consumption of marijuana. There is an argument to be made that humans naturally gravitate toward cannabis as a healing mechanism for a variety of conditions for which the body cannot combat on its own. Perhaps this can account for the small percentage of people the study finds genetically wired for weed? What is certain is that more research must be conducted before we truly understand the pros and cons of cannabis use.
But for now, our genetics (not the voices inside our heads) are telling us it 4:20 somewhere.
TELL US, do you think you are genetically predisposed to enjoy cannabis?