New Study Examines Why Cannabis Affects People Differently

Cannabis is known to have varying effects on people, ranging from feeling happy or relaxed to feeling anxious or paranoid. A new study from Western University in Ontario, Canada provides a new look THC’s effects on the brain and why cannabis gives different highs to different people.

Researchers used rats to study how THC can impact different parts of the brain and found that the front part of the brain is more sensitive. Cannabis use will yield pleasurable effects, and if the back part of the brain is more sensitive, negative reactions like anxiety and paranoia would be more likely. Previous research has found a specific gene being linked to cannabis use causing paranoia.

“Translational rodent research performed in our lab has identified highly specific target regions in the brain that seem to independently control the rewarding, addictive properties of marijuana versus the negative psychiatric side-effects associated with its use,” said Steven Laviolette Ph.D., Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Researchers also found that THC in the front part of the brain amplified the addictive properties of morphine and other opioids and increased reward-related activity patterns, which could explain why some cannabis users can develop a psychological dependence on the drug.

“These findings are important because they suggest why some people have a very positive experience with marijuana when others have a very negative experience. Our data indicate that because the reward and aversion are produced by anatomically distinct areas, the different effects between individuals is likely due to genetic variation leading to differential sensitivity of each area,” said co-author Christopher Norris.

The research has found that whether a person enjoys getting high or not could be out of a person’s control and based on genetics, but the findings could help scientists eventually develop ways to keep the brain from activating on specific pathways.

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