Second to nicotine, marijuana or cannabis, is the most widely used drug in the United States today. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) cites that “22.2 million (8.4%) people were current (past month) users of marijuana in 2014, making it the most used illicit drug.” This percentage is rising—in 2002 it was 6.2%; with this increase, comes an escalated concern of the drug’s detriment to a user and their physical and mental health. It is wrongly, and quite dangerously thought that using marijuana is fairly innocuous or harmless; on the contrary—a recent study offers startling new evidence that marijuana is in fact, addictive.
Evidence Of A Genetic Risk For Cannabis Dependence
Cannabis dependence (CAD) has long been a widely contested topic—is, or is not marijuana addictive? In recent years, some researchers have offered a resounding yes; however, it was not until this past March that research specifically identified the very genes that are responsible for this. An article published in JAMA Psychiatry reported on a groundbreaking study spearheaded by Yale that highlighted the discovery of certain genes that carry a risk of addiction to marijuana. The article stated that “cannabis use produces craving, dependence, and drug-seeking behavior, as with the use of other substances.”
The report collected and compiled data from three independent cohorts, or study groups that researched substance abuse; the results were based on data examining nearly 15,000 people. Within the study, the genetics of people that struggled with CAD (18%-36% of participants) were compared against people that appeared to have no issue with CAD. This number was purposely higher than the of roughly 10% of people within the US that develop CAD after using marijuana. This was to allow scientists a greater chance to compare and differentiate variations within the genetic code, in turn leading them to discover three genetic markers that carry the risk for CAD.
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CAD Genes Also Carry Risk Of Mental Health Concerns
What was perhaps even more remarkable was this—these findings expressed that some of the specific genes that carry the risk component for CAD may also simultaneously be carrying a risk for the development of major depression or schizophrenia.
A 2002 study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse reports that 90% of those with CAD that responded to The National Comorbidity Survey had “a lifetime mental disorder, compared to 55% without cannabis dependence.” Depressive disorders have, in the past, been linked to CAD and previously, it has been acknowledged that there is an association between marijuana use and schizophrenia; however, this is the first study that illustrates why.
The report states “these results are the first, to our knowledge, to identify specific CAD risk alleles and potential genetic factors contributing to the comorbidity of CAD with major depression and schizophrenia…cannabis dependence has a genetic risk component that may overlap with other psychiatric disorders.” Both depression and schizophrenia shared a gene that carried the CAD risk allele; this may offer a reason for why individuals that suffer from either of these concerns, also often concurrently exhibit signs of CAD.
In addition, a gene was identified that is responsible for regulating calcium levels within the body. This holds scientist’s attention, as this process has been implicated not only in depression and schizophrenia but in ADHD, another condition that is purported to having a connection to risk for substance abuse.
What Is The Importance Of This Research?
The findings are especially relevant because they offer insight into a discussion that has long had opposing viewpoints with the addiction’s research community. Prior to this research, scientific findings supported conflicting theories—it was commonly thought that marijuana use and dependence may actually cause depression, whereas other studies said it did not. Additionally, within the breadth of scientific query on the subject, a link between marijuana use and schizophrenia had been noted.
For some people, their genes may make them more susceptible to developing both an addiction to marijuana and these mental health concerns. This may help explain why, at times, it appeared that the use of marijuana was causing these conditions, when in truth they may exist because the risk factors were concurrently present within a person’s genetic makeup. This reiterates, what some in the scientific community have long suspected—the likelihood that some people use marijuana to self-medicate their preexisting conditions.
This research may hold implications for protecting teenagers against CAD. Previous research suggests that the risk of developing both depression and schizophrenia rises for people that begin using marijuana at a young age. The advent of this research, may, in the future allow for a parent to have their child screened to determine if there is a genetic risk towards developing CAD, thus offering them a chance to provide care, attention, and education to help prevent CAD and the damage it imparts on a person’s life.
Setting The Stage For Further Research
As research and scientific query is constantly broadening the scope of our knowledge on substance abuse, it is important to note that this does not express that these psychiatric conditions cannot be caused or exacerbated by drug abuse; simply that a person with them may be more apt to use a drug in the first place to temper the effects of these conditions.
More research is needed before we can conclusively determine the exact nature by which CAD affects mental health. However, this research is pertinent in the fact that it further increases the knowledge that substance abuse, specifically that of CAD is not only derived from environmental concerns but from the complex interaction between a person’s life circumstances and genetics.
Treatment For CAD
With any substance, it is an unhealthful and even dangerous practice to self-medicate; a person should seek trained help from a medical professional to combat both their substance abuse or addiction and any mental health concerns.
If you fear that you may be developing a dependence on marijuana or any other substance, or if you’re struggling with a mental health concern that makes you want to use drugs, please reach out to us today. We can assist you in finding the help that you need to safely tackle your drug use while dealing with any concurrent issues that may aggravate your substance abuse.