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Gene Linked To Cannabis Misuse: Is That Your Final Answer? 

Gene Linked to Cannabis Misuse: Is that your final answer? 

A new study links under-expressive nicotine-receptor genotype, or nicotine-receptor deficiency phenotype, with an augmented risk of cannabis misuse¹. Simply stated, the researchers may have incorrectly assumed that deficient numbers of nicotine receptors found on the surface of cannabis-dependent people’s brain cells were the result of under-expressed nicotine-receptor genes, or nicotine-receptor deficiency. Therefore, the researchers concluded that under-expressive nicotine-receptor genes are associated with an increased risk of cannabis abuse.

There may be at least one flaw in their line of reasoning.

What I Think about This New Study’s Findings:

An alternate way of looking at their so-called “genetic” data could have entertained the possibility that nicotine-receptor deficiency may not be directly associated with cannabis use, abuse, dependence or misuse.

For example, it is well established and known that nicotine is a leading gateway drug that regularly parlays to other drug indulgences, especially cannabis abuse². Thus, cannabis users, abusers, and misusers often smoked nicotine before they stated using, abusing or misusing THC, and nicotine smokers often move on to THC or add it to their feel-better-arsenal.

In addition, it is well known that a large percentage of cannabis abusers either were previously nicotine dependent, and/or regularly use or abuse nicotine and cannabinoids³.

Also, it is well-known that most drug addictions, including nicotine abuse and dependence, are associated with decreased receptor regulation and increased drug tolerance, explaining the phenomenon of using more of a drug to get the same effect or less of a feel-better drug effect. It is therefore feasible that the majority of the cannabis smokers were and/or are nicotine smokers that have environmentally, not genetically, developed nicotine-receptor down-regulation as a direct function of tolerance to nicotine.

Researchers claiming certain “so-called nicotine receptor” genes determine “so-called nicotine receptor” sparsity in the brains of cannabis using, abusing or dependent people have an increased risk of cannabis use,¹ abuse, dependence and misuse, may have confused their hypothesis which sets forth the notion that the “so-called nicotine receptor gene” somehow doubles as a cannabis use, abuse, dependence or misuse gene, while the reality might simply be that the sparseness of nicotine receptors in the brains of cannabis using person’s is more of a product of previous nicotine receptor down-regulation, secondary to nicotine use and phenotypically separate from cannabis use.

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  1. Demontis D, Rajagopal VM, Thorgeirsson TE, Als TD, Grove J, et al. Genome-wide association study implicates CHRNA2 in cannabis use disorder. Nature Neuroscience, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41593-019-0416-1
  2. Cocores JA. Editor, The Clinical Management of Nicotine Dependence. Springer International, 1991.
  3. Dierker L, Braymiller J, Rose J, Goodwin R, Selya A. Nicotine dependence predicts cannabis use disorder symptoms among adolescents and young adults. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Jun 1;187:212-220. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.02.037. Epub 2018 Apr 16.
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