Genetics Modify Response to Cannabis: A Look at the COMT Gene

Last week we talked about the need for genetic testing of both the cannabis plant itself and of patients. Speaking in broad terms, we noted that slight alterations in human DNA can lead to noticeable differences in reactions to cannabis. This is something medical cannabis patients can attest to when comparing strains with other medical users. A strain that makes one person feel tired may have little impact on the energy level of another. Today we can introduce one specific mechanism that seems to influence genetic variation in response to cannabis. Interestingly enough, researchers at Warneford Hospital in the UK actually approached this discovery while searching for causes of psychosis (when thought and emotions are so impaired, patients suffer a disconnect from reality). One of the most debated questions in the scientific community is whether cannabis contributes to the development of psychosis. Believers cite that while many people consume cannabis with no lingering health issue, some develop psychotic symptoms immediately after first exposure. Critics do not necessarily disagree with this observation but believe that many different substances and environmental factors can trigger psychotic illness. Regardless, the data would suggest that if only some patients develop symptoms, the cause might be genetic. What gene is causing this? Researchers have identified catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) as a gene that regulates dopamine in the cortex of the brain. Studies show that cognitive function is improved in animals “with reduced COMT activity”. This pattern implies that the gene is some sort of limiter, perhaps designed to…