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Scientists Pinpoint Gene Associated with Heavy Cannabis Consumption

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The inclination to consume higher amounts of cannabis may be genetic. New findings published in Nature Neuroscience on June 17 indicate that a specific gene is linked to an “increased risk of cannabis abuse.” The same gene, CHRNA2, is described as the source of the nicotine receptors in the brain.

The study was led by a Danish psychiatric project called iPSYCH. Scientists utilized a Danish cohort to study the complete genome of over 2,000 cannabis “abusers” and the genome of 50,000 control subjects. The studies were repeated on 5,500 cannabis abusers and 300,000 control subjects. What they found was that people who have a lower amount of the receptor associated with nicotine have an increased risk of cannabis abuse.

“Around one in ten users become dependent” on cannabis, researchers explained in the study abstract. While the study focused mostly on the negative aspects associated with heavy cannabis consumption, the mechanisms behind cannabis cravings are certainly interesting to say the least.

Researchers made a connection between heavy cannabis use and the gene called CHRNA2. CHRNA2 is also the gene responsible for the receptors that bind to nicotine. The team of researchers also found that people with a higher number of genetic variants associated with impaired cognition also have an increased risk of cannabis abuse. Researchers pointed out that lower levels of that gene lead to worse performances in the education system.

“People who abuse cannabis often do worse in the education system, and our results show that this can be partly explained by genetics,” Associate Professor Ditte Demontis from Aarhus University told Science Daily. “That is to say that people with an abuse problem have more genetic variations in the genome which increase the risk of cannabis abuse, while at the same time negatively affecting their ability to get an education.” The study suggests that genetic traits may play a major factor in the way that people are inclined to consume large amounts of cannabis.

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