A recent study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, led by the University of Oslo, unveils a shared genetic basis for cannabis use and psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The research suggests that a specific group of people could be genetically predisposed to a heightened risk of both indulging in cannabis and developing psychiatric disorders.
The connection between cannabis use and psychiatric ailments has long been a contentious topic. Cannabis, being a psychoactive substance, can occasionally trigger symptoms resembling psychosis. Furthermore, the consumption rate of cannabis appears to be elevated among individuals suffering from disorders associated with psychosis, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Genetic factors play an important role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to developing psychiatric disorders or their likelihood of using cannabis. Some of the genetic variants associated with cannabis use are also linked to psychiatric disorders.
This recent study, led by Drs. Weiqiu Cheng and Nadine Parker, provides evidence that shared genetic factors underlie this relationship. “This study shows that there is a shared genetic basis underlying our susceptibility to both cannabis use and certain psychiatric disorders. These findings may indicate that a subset of the population is at high risk for both cannabis use and psychiatric disorders, based on their genetic propensity”, lead author Weiqiu Cheng says.
Using advanced statistical modeling, the study shows that the majority of shared variants increase the risk of both cannabis use and developing either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Still, there are some genetic variants with opposing effects, that increase the risk of cannabis use while decreasing the risk of the two psychiatric disorders, suggesting a complex relationship.
“These findings are important as they show that the complex links between cannabis use and these disorders may not only be caused by cannabis use itself but could also be driven by shared genetic susceptibility”, researcher Nadine Parker says.
Cannabis is used medicinally for the relief of pain and as an antidepressant in some regions of the world. Also, one component of cannabis is being considered as a potential treatment for psychosis. “Shared genetic variants with opposing effects may suggest the presence of biological mechanisms that could support the beneficial effects of cannabis”, the researchers point out.
These new findings have several important clinical implications. Firstly, this information may result in personalized care including preventative and interventional measures for high-risk individuals. This may include reducing cannabis use among individuals at high genetic risk for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Secondly, future studies investigating the biological effects of the shared genetic variants may contribute to the development of more targeted treatment efforts. Finally, the improved knowledge about genetic overlap can be used to help stratify patients for more specialized treatment plans.
Reference: “The relationship between cannabis use, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder: a genetically informed study” by Weiqiu Cheng, Nadine Parker, Naz Karadag, Elise Koch, Guy Hindley, Romain Icick, Alexey Shadrin, Kevin S O’Connell, Thomas Bjella, Shahram Bahrami, Zillur Rahman, Markos Tesfaye, Piotr Jaholkowski, Linn Rødevand, Børge Holen, Trine Vik Lagerberg, Nils Eiel Steen, Srdjan Djurovic, Anders M Dale, Oleksandr Frei and Ole A Andreassen, 17 May 2023, The Lancet Psychiatry.