Your genes could dictate how likely you are to develop psychosis after smoking cannabis, research by Exeter and UCL scientists has found.
A variation in the ‘stoner gene’ – otherwise known as the AKT1 gene – seems to make people more likely to suffer psychotic symptoms when smoking the drug. Being prone to these mind-altering effects could make you more likely to develop psychosis.
Professor Celia Morgan from Exeter’s Psychopharmacology department carried out the study alongside a team of UCL scientists.
It’s known that cannabis doubles the risk of developing a psychotic disorder, and research had already suggested links between AKT1 and cannabis psychosis – but this was the first study to explore what the ‘stoner gene’ means for otherwise healthy smokers.
The team tested 422 young cannabis users while they were under the influence of the drug.
The results suggested that users with the AKT1 genotype are “far more likely to experience strong effects from smoking cannabis, even if they are otherwise healthy,” Morgan said.
These short-term effects range from visual distortions to paranoia and other psychotic symptoms – and they could have long-term implications. “Putting yourself repeatedly in a psychotic or paranoid state might be one reason why these people could go on to develop psychosis,” Morgan explained.
Only around one per cent of cannabis users develop psychosis – but while rare, “it can have a terrible impact on the lives of young people,” Morgan said.
“This research could help pave the way towards the prevention and treatment of cannabis psychosis.”
The research was published on Tuesday in Translational Psychiatry.