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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- 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
- Cocores JA. Editor, The Clinical Management of Nicotine Dependence. Springer International, 1991.
- 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.