Research shows that there may be a specific gene associated with a higher risk of cannabis abuse. The same gene is responsible for the so-called nicotine receptor in the brain. A Danish psychiatric project called iPSYCH analyzed the complete genome of over 2,000 cannabis abusers and 50,000 control subjects. The project found that people with lower amounts of this receptor may face an increased risk for cannabis abuse. The research team later repeated these findings in an analysis of 5,500 cannabis abusers and 300,000 control subjects.
Associate Professor Ditte Domontis from Aarhus University in Denmark explains that research found "that the disorder was associated with a genetic variant. This variant affects how much of a certain nicotine receptor is formed in the brain." Those with less of this receptor were more likely to abuse the drug.
Nicotinic receptors are distributed throughout the nervous system and are, in part, responsible for a multitude of physiological responses, like anxiety, pain processing, feeding behavior, and cognitive functions.
The dysfunction of a person's neuronal nicotinic receptors could be associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, autism spectrum disorders, and schizophrenia.
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Domontis' team utilized data from previous studies where researchers examined the underlying genetics for cognition. They found that there was a higher risk of not only cannabis abuse, as well as impaired cognition, with people who had a higher number of genetic variants.
Those with abuse problems tend to have more genetic variations in the genome which not only increases the risk of cannabis abuse but may also negatively impact cognition.
"We need to undertake even more research into how the genetic differences in the genome contribute to the development of cannabis abuse, and we need to map out the precise biological mechanisms that lead to one person having a higher risk of becoming a substance abuser than another. Our hope is to be able to improve treatment and perhaps in the long-term even prevent this abuse," says Ditte Demontis.