Heavy cannabis use can influence human DNA, but the effect is stronger when its use is paired with tobacco smoking, according to a recent study.

The study found that heavy cannabis use possibly can cause bodily chemical changes that control the mechanism of genes, also known as “DNA methylation,” which is an epigenetic mechanism used by cells to control gene expression.

The research was a collaboration among the University of Canterbury, University of Otago Christchurch, University of Otago, and ESR, with Dr. Amy Osborne as the team lead.

Osborne said that alterations in gene pathways are linked to cannabis use and may explain the link between heavy cannabis use and those adverse health outcomes. There was already preceding evidence from other studies that showed the relationship between heavy cannabis use and the risk of mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and depression. Heart disease was also associated with heavy cannabis use.

Osborne said cannabis has a more subtle effect than tobacco when it comes to DNA and genome methylation.

Scientists have made various discoveries about DNA methylation and how vital it is to a number of cellular processes such as embryonic development, X-chromosome inactivation, genomic imprinting, gene suppression, carcinogenesis, and chromosome stability. Researchers have linked abnormal DNA methylation to several adverse outcomes, including human diseases," according to News Medical Net.

The research employed 48 heavy cannabis users. Blood samples were obtained from these Christchurch Health and Development longitudinal studies when they were aged 28. DNA methylation analysis was conducted to check the difference between users and non-users of cannabis.

The greatest evidence of the changes was among subjects who were both cannabis and tobacco smokers, followed by those who only smoke cannabis, compared to non-users in terms of alterations in DNA.

The study involved subjects who were non-cigarette smokers. This provided the Christchurch Health and Development Study the opportunity to determine the influence of cannabis on DNA methylation in the human genome.

Osborne reported that despite the greater impact of tobacco on DNA than cannabis, the brain and heart function is greatly affected by cannabis. This needs to be researched further with a larger sample size. Osborne reiterates that studies related to cannabis use must check if these include or exclude cigarette smokers.

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Cannabis grows easily in Senegal's tropical climate, which makes it a tempting crop for impoverished farmers GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / WIN MCNAMEE