A global study that investigated the predisposition of individuals to cannabis use disorder has determined a link between a region of DNA near the FOXP2 gene and cannabis use disorder (“CUD”), previously associated with risk-taking behavior.
A press release notes that researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine studied DNA and other data from about 360,000 individuals who did not have a CUD diagnosis and 21,000 individuals who were diagnosed with CUD.
The research team determined two regions in human DNA — the CHRNA2 gene, which has previously been associated with nicotine addiction and CUD, and the FOXP2 gene. Researchers discovered that both these genes contributed to the risk of becoming dependent on marijuana.
Arpana Agrawal, a professor of psychiatry and the senior study investigator, noted that in roughly 50% of individuals who used marijuana, genetics played a role in those who developed problems with marijuana use. He pointed out that genetic pathways could be used to develop better treatments for marijuana addiction in the future.
The research findings, which were published in “Lancet Psychiatry,” show that some individuals may be vulnerable to CUD before they even smoke their first joints. The reason for this, the researchers note, is because children who had higher genetic susceptibility for severe problems with marijuana were found to have, on average, a marginally lower volume of white matter in their brains. Researchers mentioned behavioral factors such as educational attainment, schizophrenia and risk-taking to be of interest.
In the statement, the first author, Emma Johnson, states that while susceptibility to using marijuana is correlated with higher educational attainment, genetic liability for problematic cannabis use is associated with less education. She adds that it’s also possible that those who use marijuana on occasion but develop no addiction may be genetically predisposed to other protective influences, such as more years of education.
Agrawal observed that many individuals may consider marijuana to be less addictive in comparison to other drugs. However, research findings clearly show that individuals can become dependent on marijuana and that CUD has biological and genetic foundations.
The research study notes that the possibility of genetic liability to cannabis use disorder in individuals who were unexposed has major implications for the public health sector. Another study published in “Lancet Psychiatry” noted that CBD could be used as a new treatment to help treat cannabis use disorder. However, it is unclear what doses might be safe or effective.
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