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Is It All In Your Genes? How Genetics May Influence Your Reaction To Cannabis

We’re learning more about cannabis every day now that legalization has gained momentum. We know that everyone reacts to the plant differently, and these reactions depend on several factors, including one’s genetics.

Beatriz Carlini, a senior research scientist at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, puts it plainly: “Three main factors play into the effect a drug has on you—the drug itself, the environment you’re in, and the person who uses it.”

The first two points are straightforward and easy to understand. What you use, and where you use it, have a big impact on how you react to it. But what about the third point: the person who uses it? Science has shown us that a person’s individual genes and body chemistry have an impact on how they react to various substances, including cannabis.

Here a few different ways this happens:

Genetics and Frequent Usage

How often do you use weed? Are you a heavy user, a once-in-a-while toker, or somewhere in between? Do you crave it often, or can you take it or leave it?

If you’re a heavy cannabis user, you may be predisposed to frequent cravings by a large presence of the gene FAAH in your system, which stands for Fatty Acid, AMA Hydrolase.

A heavier presence of FAAH in your system causes increased activity in the reward-related regions of your brain, kicking your dopamine receptor into high gear. As a result, a person with an increased level of FAAH might also have increased susceptibility to substance use disorders, including cannabis dependence.

Genetics and Your Memory

What causes some cannabis users to become forgetful, while others remain unaffected? The presence of the gene COMT, and the type that you have, is a huge driver behind this effect.

If you have a high concentration of the Comt Val variant, you tend to experience greater memory impairment and absentmindedness from ingesting too much THC, according to researcher David Krantz. If you have the Comt Met version, you tend to remain unaffected.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

What’s the endocannabinoid system? Without getting too far into the technicalities, it’s the internal system that controls and regulates our most important bodily functions. Endocannabinoids are molecules that stimulate the receptors within this system, structured very similarly to the molecules in cannabis, hence the name.

So, what does this mean for the cannabis user? What researchers have discovered so far is that the presence of these molecules, the types that you have, and how many you produce, also affect your reaction to cannabis, particularly your memory.

Now What?

These findings are only the beginning of what we’re beginning to discover about the relationship between our genetics and our reaction to cannabis. The more cannabis is accepted into the mainstream, the more we can expect to see reputable, high-profile research and studies published. Hopefully with further changes to legislation over the coming months and years, the medical and science communities will have more freedom to study the plant and human genetics.

That said, what do we do with what we know so far? What do you do if you’re genetically predisposed to adverse reactions to weed?


Know your plant

Regardless of what you’re ingesting, the more you know about it, the better. Weed is no exception. For example, which cannabinoids are in your cannabis? Do you know how strong your cannabis is? What are the ratios, and how do they seem to interact with each other? How do the different terpenes affect you?

Learning more about the makeup of your selected strains and making note as to how they affect you will help you to make selections that are the best fit for your body chemistry. Journaling can help, or if you prefer a digital solution, the Releaf App is a good option, as it’s specifically made for tracking your cannabis sessions.

Considering Cannabis Genetics Testing? Not So Fast…

Predictably, we’re beginning to see DIY strain predictor test kits come to market. These kits make promises of providing you, the weed enthusiast, a detailed, complete breakdown of your genetic makeup and how you will react to certain cannabis strains.

Now, before you fork over any of your hard-earned money for one of these kits, you need to do your due diligence. Make sure that the company’s test kits are validated by real research from a reputable institution. Not all test kits are, and some companies are more ethical than others. Let the buyer beware.

The bottom line is, trying out different strains on your own, in a safe, comfortable environment is your best bet. Doing so will provide you the best indicator as to what works for you, and your individual genetic make-up.