Genetics May Influence Marijuana Dependence in Childhood Abuse Victims

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A variant within a gene of the endocannabinoid system may explain why some survivors of childhood abuse are able to use marijuana without problems later in life while others become addicted, according to research published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Childhood adversity, particularly sexual abuse, has long been linked to the development of cannabis dependence. However, the factors responsible for individual differences in vulnerabilities or resilience to becoming dependent have not been well understood.

Because THC influences the body by mimicking enzymes the endocannabinoid system produces, Ryan Bogdan, PhD, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues investigated whether a variation in genes in the endocannabinoid system might influence whether individuals became addicted to cannabis, especially in the context of childhood trauma.

The researchers first examined genetic data from 1,558 Australian marijuana users who self-reported sexual abuse as children, and second examined genetic data from 859 Americans who also reported childhood abuse.

In both of these study phases, the researchers found that the rs604300 variation in the monoacylglycerol lipase (MGLL) gene showed an association between childhood sexual abuse and cannabis dependence. In victims of childhood abuse, only those who were homozygous for the G allele were associated with cannabis dependence. Those who were heterozygotes (A/G) had no association with cannabis dependence, and those who were homozygous for the A allele were negatively associated with dependence.

“It's important to mention that these findings are unlikely to be informative at an individual level,” said Caitlin E. Carey, a PhD student working with Bogdan. “We won't see a genetic test for cannabis dependence anytime soon, if ever, but it's a start.”

Genetics May Influence Marijuana Dependence in Childhood Abuse Victims
A certain variation in a gene was associated with cannabis dependence in child abuse victims.

Genetic variation within the endocannabinoid system may explain why some survivors of childhood adversity go on to become dependent on marijuana, while others are able to use marijuana without problems, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

Forthcoming in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the study is among the first to pinpoint a specific genetic variant that may influence susceptibility to cannabis dependence in the context of childhood trauma.

THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, influences an array of mental and bodily functions because it closely mimics chemical enzymes that the endocannabinoid system naturally produces to send signals between neurons and other individual cells throughout the body. These signals trigger the production of other internal chemicals, such as adrenalin, which help the body modulate its response to external influences, such as fear, stress and hunger.
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