Science unravels why adolescents react differently to THC

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Researchers have figured out how THC interacts with the developing brain in youth

Another exciting discovery was made from preclinical research conducted by Weill Cornell Medicine investigators. This study focused on how and why teenagers tend to react differently to the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and it seems to have something to do with a common variation in a human gene. Since, during adolescence, brain development is still very active, and it can be risky for initiating cannabis in the early years, these findings can help understand these interactions.

The endocannabinoid system, which is part of the body and the brain, has the function of regulating the activity of cannabinoids, the ones internally produced, and the ones coming from cannabis. This system regulates brain development and even moods, and an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) breaks down the anandamide cannabinoid, which is naturally presented in the brain, and which is closely related to THC. The study increased the anandamide present in the mice’s brains to increase the degradation activity, and it was discovered that this variant created an overactivated reward circuit in the female brain — nothing happened on the young male mice. If the rewards system is overactivated, then those females presented an increased preference for THC.

“Our study shows that a variant in the FAAH gene, which is found in about one-third of people, increases vulnerability to THC in females and has large-scale impact on brain regions and pathways responsible for processing reward,” said lead author Dr. Caitlin Burgdorf, a doctoral graduate from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. “Our findings suggest that genetics can be a contributing factor for increased susceptibility to cannabis dependence in select populations.” In Burgdorf’s words, “Our findings suggest that we have discovered a genetic factor to potentially identify subjects at risk for cannabis dependence.”