Schizophrenia, Cannabis, and the AKT1 Gene

We’ve written several articles on the Cornerstone blog about cannabis and schizophrenia. The association between the two is one of the most fascinating puzzles of cannabis science. What we know is that people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to use cannabis than non-users, and daily cannabis users have a small but doubled risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. Like all psychoactive substances, medical or recreational, cannabis is not for everyone. What makes someone more susceptible to an adverse reaction to cannabis? Or any substance for that matter? What increases someone’s likelihood of being a daily user? At the turn of the century, the idea that anyone could be predisposed to a particular psychoactive reaction was largely disregarded. In fact, many physicians did not accept alcoholism as a valid illness when it was originally added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, genetic research has changed so much of our understanding of psychiatric health. Rather than imagining everyone to have the same psychological operating system, we know that genes dictate large differences from person to person. Even within an individual, genes can be activated and deactivated throughout a person’s lifetime due to environmental factors and stress. Readers may be able to identify with having a friend who cannot or does not smoke cannabis due to repeatedly unpleasant experiences. “It just doesn’t sit well with me.” Such people are unknowingly referring to their genetic make up and general neurological condition. Of course, knowing that there is a genetic…

Depression, Cannabis, and… Your Immune System?

Cannabis has long been known to be a mood improving substance. In fact, this quality has contributed to its use as a recreational drug. As a result, it’s not surprising to read that the endocannabinoid system, which controls our bodies’ responses to cannabis, is being investigated in connection to treating depression. What is surprising, however, is the specific way it seems to be involved. Readers might never suspect that the immune system and the endocannabinoid system might be cohorts in the genesis of depression. Wait, back up – the immune system? What does that have to do with depression? Apparently something large. First, recent meta-analyses of immune-related experiments provide strong support for a link between immune dysfunction and depression. Statistically speaking, patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) also show higher levels of several inflammatory signaling proteins. While this could simply indicate association rather than cause (for instance, simply that patients with malfunctioning immune systems have health consequences that lead to depression), the most interesting evidence here is that researchers have specifically observed a positive relationship between depressive symptoms and amount/dose of inflammatory molecules over a widespread population. The fact that depressive symptoms are dose-dependent to immune signaling molecules seems to suggest some sort of causality. Finally, patients suffering from chronic viral infections, who as a result have to take drugs like IFN-alpha (an immune and inflammation boosting cytokine), often develop depression at the onset of such medication with a rate upwards of 30 percent! Unfortunately, depression comes in many forms…