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The Epigenetic Effects of Cannabis Use: A Study of Over 1,000 Adults | Science Alert


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Study Finds Cannabis Use Can Cause Changes in the Human Body’s Epigenome

A recent study conducted on over 1,000 adults revealed that the use of cannabis derived from the hemp plant can lead to alterations in the epigenome of the human body. The epigenome is responsible for regulating the activation or deactivation of genes, thereby influencing our body’s functioning.

The Association Between Cannabis Use and Genetic Markers

According to Lifang Ho, a preventive medicine epidemiologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, there is a correlation between cumulative marijuana use and multiple genetic markers over time. In a published article, Ho and a group of American researchers highlighted that cannabis is widely used in the United States, with approximately 49% of people having tried it at least once. Despite its legalization in certain US states and other countries, the full impact of cannabis on our health remains incompletely understood.

The Study and its Findings

The researchers examined nearly 1,000 adults who had participated in a long-term study on cannabis use spanning 20 years. These participants provided blood samples at ages 15 and 20, and their ages ranged from 18 to 30 years. By analyzing these blood samples taken five years apart, the team focused on studying epigenetic changes, specifically DNA methylation levels, in individuals who had recently or consistently used cannabis.

Alterations in DNA methylation, such as the addition or removal of methyl groups from DNA, are extensively studied modifications in epigenetic inheritance. While these changes do not impact the genetic sequence itself, they influence gene activity by hindering cells from accurately interpreting genome instructions due to molecular modifications.

Additionally, environmental and lifestyle factors can induce methylation changes that may be inherited by future generations. Blood biomarkers serve as indicators of both recent and past exposures, providing valuable information for researchers.

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Exploring the Link Between Marijuana Use, Epigenetic Factors, and Health Outcomes

The study’s lead researcher, Hu, explains that previous research had already established a connection between marijuana use and the aging process through DNA methylation. The team aimed to investigate specific epigenetic factors associated with marijuana use and determine whether these factors affected health outcomes.

Accumulated data on cannabis use allowed the researchers to assess both recent and cumulative use and compare it with DNA methylation markers in blood samples. Over a span of 15 years, the team discovered 22 markers associated with recent use and 31 markers associated with cumulative cannabis use. In samples taken 20 years later, they identified 132 markers associated with recent use and 16 markers associated with cumulative use.

Implications for Health and Future Research

Multiple epigenetic changes linked to cannabis use have previously been associated with various factors, including cell proliferation, hormonal signaling, inflammation, and neurological disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders. However, it is important to note that this study does not establish a direct causal relationship between cannabis use and these changes or health problems.

Epidemiologist Drew Nanini from Northwestern University emphasizes the need for further research to determine the consistency of these associations across different populations. Additionally, investigating the effects of marijuana on age-related health outcomes may provide deeper insights into its long-term effects.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Source: Science Alert

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