Research reveals genetic link to cannabis use disorder

Your genetic makeup could influence your likelihood of developing cannabis use disorder, suggests a comprehensive new study examining the genomes of more than one million people. The research, published in Nature Genetics, also reveals that specific regions in the genome linked to cannabis use disorder are similarly associated with other health conditions, including lung cancer and schizophrenia.

“This is the largest genome-wide study of cannabis use disorder ever conducted and as more states legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana, such studies can help us to understand the public health risks that accompany its increased use,” Joel Gelernter, study author and Yale Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and professor of genetics and of neuroscience, told YaleNews.

Previous studies have suggested that there is a genetic component of problematic cannabis use and some cancers and psychiatric disorders, but this latest research, led by Yale researchers, is the first to look at a large number of people across different racial backgrounds. The researchers used a technique called genetic correlation to compare variations in one million people registered in the Million Veteran Program. They found three different types of receptors on neurons that were associated with elevated risk for developing cannabis use disorder.

“Once we understand the biology of cannabis use disorder, we can better understand associated disorders and inform the public of risks associated with marijuana use,” Daniel Levey, lead author of the study, told YaleNews.

The study comes at a crucial time as more states legalize marijuana, leading to a rise in diagnoses of cannabis use disorder. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48 million Americans (18% of the population) reported using marijuana at least once in 2019, with research indicating that approximately 3 in 10 marijuana users will develop cannabis use disorder.

As marijuana’s legal landscape evolves, researchers stress the importance of fully understanding the risks and negative outcomes associated with its use. The study signifies a step toward unraveling the complexities of cannabis-related disorders and promoting informed decisions regarding marijuana consumption.