It’s a familiar story: After excitedly trying cannabis, a person is put off by their underwhelming, disappointing (or downright horrible) experience. Most of the time, the person decides never to use cannabis again. But little does that consumer know there is a fundamental reason why their experience was so negative: their cannabis product, dosage, and the consumption method wasn’t tailored to their DNA.
How DNA can impact your cannabis experience
Genes hold the instructions that are responsible for creating enzymes and proteins, which both make up the constituents of the brain and body. As a result, it doesn’t require much of a leap to see how variants of specific genes can affect the endocannabinoid system and, subsequently, a person’s experience with cannabis.
An example of how cannabis and DNA are linked can be seen in someone who has Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD), a genetic condition in which the carrier’s body generates significantly less endogenous cannabinoids and receptors compared to a healthy person. CECD illustrates an apparent link between cannabis use and DNA: If someone carries a gene for CECD, the individual will require substantially more cannabis to achieve the same effects as someone without that gene. In a social situation where everyone is consuming roughly the same amount of cannabis, the user(s) with the CECD gene may not experience any effect, because of their genetic predisposition.
Another example that showcases how DNA affects a person’s cannabis experience can be seen in variants of the CYP2C9 and CYP2C19 genes. These two genes code for an enzyme that breaks down THC and CBD. Variants on these genes can make the enzymes they create up to 30% less productive, meaning that consumers with those genetic variants would be less effective in breaking down THC and CBD. This bodily process is a critical variable to consider when ingesting chemicals of any sort, be they THC or pharmaceuticals.
In fact, some pharmaceutical companies specifically take this breakdown system into account. They create medications that repress the breakdown of endogenous chemicals so that the drugs remain effective for a longer period of time and produce “more” of their intended outcome. For example, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors—SSRIs, the leading antidepressants—delay the breakdown of serotonin (a positive mood-regulating neurotransmitter) in the synapse so that an individual’s serotonin can continue to operate, yielding a “happier” person.
Similarly, the sluggish breakdown of THC will result in a user feeling “higher” for longer. What’s worse is that the genetic variant can also create drowsiness for up to three days after the initial consumption of THC.
The impact of the cannabis dosage and form factor
Depending on a person’s DNA, the cannabis dosage and form factor will play a role in the effects an individual feels. If the cannabis product isn’t tailored to the person’s genetic makeup, it will lead to a negative experience. Here are two practical examples that can illustrate this point.
1. The cannabis form factor
Consumers can better understand the link between cannabis and DNA when they consider the form factor they should choose. The genes CYP2C9 and CYP2C19 are a good example here. As mentioned above, variants on these genes can make the enzymes they create up to 30% less effective. Again, this information means that consumers with those variants would be less effective in breaking down THC and CBD.
Keeping that knowledge in mind, an example of an unsuitable consumption method for users with those genetic variants would be edibles. When cannabis enters the body via an edible, cannabinoids are introduced through the gut, which is also known as the digestive tract.
In the gut, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream and then travels to the liver where the THC undergoes first-pass metabolism and digestion. If consumers have the CYP2C9 and CYP2C19 variants, their bodies will not be able to digest the THC at a normal rate, which will result in lethargy and a much longer high compared to someone else without the genetic variants who took the same exact form factor.
With this insight into variants on the CYP2C9 and CYP2C19 genes, consumers can make much better decisions about the cannabis consumption method they should choose. A consumer that is predisposed to suboptimal breakdown, for example, would be better suited to vape products instead of edibles. Because inhalation bypasses first-pass metabolism, consumers will avoid the effects of a slow breakdown of THC.
2. Cannabis Dosage
The link between cannabis and DNA is also present in the dosage that consumers utilize. The amount of cannabis someone consumes can lead to a negative experience if the user has a genetic predisposition to cannabis-induced psychosis. In this case, the person would have dopaminergic signaling pathways that are far more fickle than another individual.
As a result, if that person consumes high doses of THC that aren’t being mediated by an equal ratio of CBD, they are more likely to experience paranoia or have a psychotic break. This event would obviously cause their cannabis experience to be vastly different from someone without the same genetic predisposition.
DNA plays an important role in the cannabis experience
When it comes to cannabis and DNA, a consumer’s genetics plays a crucial role in how the plant affects their cognition, as well as their overall experience with cannabis. There are genetic biomarkers for various negative cannabis-induced side effects, such as working memory loss, lethargy, paranoia, and psychosis.
However, by gaining more information about their genes, people can become more aware of how different types of cannabinoids, dosages, and consumption methods affect them, and therefore choose safer, more appropriate products that lead to positive experiences.