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Researchers identify gene that can predict psychosis risk in cannabis users

Researchers identify gene that can predict psychosis risk in cannabis users

The shift in public opinions about the use of opioids and the country’s overall drug policy has led to a significant rise in marijuana (cannabis) abuse by Americans in the past few years. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2013, revealed that 19.8 million people reported having used it in the past month.

A recent study at the University of Exeter and University College of London (UCL) has claimed that marijuana use may stimulate the onset of mental illness due to the presence of a gene variant called AKT1.

The study, titled “AKT1 genotype moderates the acute psychotomimetic effects of naturalistically smoked cannabis in young cannabis smokers,” found evidence of marijuana users developing psychosis after its use.

Risk of developing psychosis

The research, published in journal the Translational Psychiatry in 2016, analyzed 442 marijuana users aged 16 to 23 and studied their cognitive abilities before and after marijuana use.

The findings suggested that though 49 percent of the participants had a certain variation of AKT1, identified by previous research as linked to psychosis, they had no other health problems. Some 1 percent of the cannabis users developed psychosis owing to the presence of the gene variant.

The research, described by the scientists as the first of its kind in studying the link between one variant of the AKT1 genotype and the effects of smoking weed by healthy young people, will further help researchers to identify those who are at maximum risk of smoking cannabis.

Celia Morgan, lead author of the study and a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, said, “These findings are the first to demonstrate that people with this AKT1 genotype are far more likely to experience strong effects from smoking cannabis, even if they are otherwise healthy. To find that having this gene variant means that you are more prone to mind-altering effects of cannabis when you don’t have psychosis gives us a clue as to how it increases risk in healthy people.”

Morgan suggested that marijuana users who go on to develop psychosis may not have done so had they not used marijuana and added, “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.”

Dreading the marijuana effect

Though cannabis-induced psychosis has been found only in 1 percent of the 442 participants, it pinpoints to the massive and devastating impact of weed smoking. Professor Val Curran, professor of psychopharmacology at UCL said, “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.”

Looking for recovery

The euphoria that accompanies weed smoking makes it one of the most sought after illicit drug in the U.S. The harmful effects that regular cannabis users suffer from seem to be sidelined by people who look at marijuana as a medication for pain relief.

If you or your loved one is addicted to some substance and shows symptoms of any mental disorder, you may seek expert guidance from the Florida Dual Diagnosis Helpline. You can call our 24/7 helpline at 866-337-7631 or chat online for further information.