Many people enjoy the light buzz of hitting a joint, but for a select few even just a puff or two can cause paranoid delusions. Scientists from England have uncovered a gene that may predict the likelihood of somebody suffering from psychosis after smoking cannabis.
Considerable effort over the last 10 years has been put into identifying genetic factors that may predispose a person to cannabis’ possible ill psychological effects, and many interesting discoveries have been made. This latest research from England has solidified the notion that genetic testing may one day be able to identify people at risk for cannabis-induced psychosis.
What is cannabis-induced psychosis you might ask? Since the early days of Reefer Madness propaganda-backed science has touted the link between cannabis and psychosis. These days nobody claims that cannabis can turn you into a bloodthirsty murderer, an undeniable statistical correlation remains between cannabis consumption and the occurrence of a psychotic event. The risk is very small, and very few smokers will ever experience even a trace of psychotic feelings.
"Putting yourself repeatedly in a psychotic or paranoid state might be one reason why these people could go on to develop psychosis when they might not have done otherwise. Although cannabis-induced psychosis is very rare, when it happens it can have a terrible impact on the lives of young people. This research could help pave the way towards the prevention and treatment of cannabis psychosis,” said Celia Morgan, Professor of Psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter and lead author on the paper.
Previous work has identified correlations between psychosis and cannabis use in patients with a history of schizophrenia and have found several genes at play. This latest study has identified that people with a variation in the “AKT1” were more likely to suffer from visual distortions, memory impairment and paranoid delusions after smoking.
“The current study is the largest ever to be conducted on the acute response to cannabis. Our finding that psychotic-like symptoms when young people are ‘stoned’ are predicted by AKT1 variants is an exciting breakthrough as this acute reaction is thought to be a marker of a person’s risk of developing psychosis from smoking the drug,” said professor Val Curran from the University College London.
The study had 422 participants aged 16 to 23 that smoked cannabis at least once per month and did not have any history of mental illness in themselves or in a first-degree relative. The participants smoked at their own homes with their own cannabis that underwent lab testing for potency. The first day they smoked and underwent a battery of psychological tests, and one week later analyzed again without smoking.
In addition to symptoms of psychosis, participants were tested for short-term memory impairment, a key symptom of psychosis. Interestingly, they discovered that females suffered from more memory impairment after smoking cannabis than males. The findings are preliminary but Professor Morgan says, “Animal studies have found that males have more of the receptors that cannabis works on in parts of the brain important in short term memory, such as the prefrontal cortex. We need further research in this area, but our findings indicate that men could be less sensitive to the memory impairing effects of cannabis than females.”
The findings could one day lead to a way to identify individuals that may be more susceptible to cannabis-induced psychosis, and that should not smoke cannabis. Furthermore, this research helps uncover the mechanism by which cannabis can cause these effects, which may eventually lead to effective drug therapies to treat affected individuals.
Photo Credit: Jena Anne