Summary: A study by Northwestern Medicine, published in Molecular Psychiatry, has found a link between recent and long-term marijuana use and changes in the human genome. The study, involving over 900 adults, identified associations between marijuana use and DNA methylation markers, which are related to various health disorders.
Exploring the Epigenetic Impact of Marijuana: Possible SChanges in Human Genome
The study, led by Lifang Hou, MD, Ph.D., chief of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University, explored the effects of marijuana on epigenetic factors. Despite marijuana’s growing popularity and legalization in several states, its impact on epigenetics had not been thoroughly studied.
Researchers analyzed blood samples from participants of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, taken five years apart. They surveyed participants for recent and cumulative marijuana use and performed DNA methylation profiling on their blood samples. DNA methylation, a process where methyl groups are added to DNA molecules, can alter gene expression.
The study found 22 and 31 DNA methylation markers associated with recent and cumulative marijuana use, respectively, in the first batch of samples. In the second batch, they observed 132 and 16 methylation markers. These epigenetic changes were linked to pathways involved in cellular proliferation, hormone signaling, infections, and mental health disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders.
Drew Nannini, DO, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Hou lab and the first author of the study, noted that while the research does not establish a causal relationship between marijuana use and epigenetic changes or health outcomes, it provides valuable insights for future research. The study suggests a potential shared epigenetic regulation between tobacco and marijuana use.
The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, Northwestern University, American Heart Association, and National Institute on Aging.
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