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A recent research conducted by Northwestern Medicine and published in Molecular Psychiatry reveals a connection between ongoing and prolonged marijuana usage and alterations in the human epigenome.

Marijuana usage linked to changes in human epigenome

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana stands as the most prevalent drug in the United States. In 2019, approximately 48.2 million individuals, accounting for roughly 18% of the American population, acknowledged having tried marijuana at least once.

The study’s senior author, Lifang Hou, the head of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in the Department of Preventive Medicine said that despite the legalization of marijuana in several states, the potential health ramifications associated with its usage remain inadequately comprehended.

Hou said that despite the surge in its popularity and recent legalization in multiple states, the impact of marijuana on epigenetic elements remains an area with limited research. The correlation between marijuana use and the aging process, as evident in DNA methylation, has been previously identified. Thus, their study sought to discover the potential associations of specific epigenetic factors with marijuana use and their potential implications for health outcomes.

Researchers conducted a study using blood samples from over 900 adults who had previously participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. They examined recent and cumulative marijuana use in the participants and analyzed DNA methylation profiling in their blood samples to identify epigenetic changes linked to marijuana usage.

DNA methylation leads to human epigenome alterations

Scientists investigated alterations in the human epigenome through DNA methylation, caused by marijuana usage. The study revealed significant changes in gene expression related to cellular proliferation, infections, hormone signaling, and mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders.

The study observed links between cumulative marijuana use and various epigenetic markers over time. Notably, one marker was found to be associated with both tobacco and marijuana use, indicating potential shared epigenetic regulation. The marijuana markers were also linked to cell proliferation, psychiatric disorders, and infection. However, further research is required to confirm these results.