March 2023

Genetic Basis of Cannabis Use

Cannabis is one of the most widely used psychoactive substance worldwide. The increased risk of developing a cannabis use disorder has recently been associated with specific genetic variants. These findings have led to numerous studies focused on the characterization of the complex relationship between genetic background and cannabis use. In this context, the article entitled “Genetic basis of cannabis use: a systematic review” aims to summarize some of the current knowledge on the genetic determinants underlying cannabis use, identify genetic variants associated with increased risk of cannabis misuse and its related harms, and highlight the importance of further research to better understand the genetic susceptibilities associated with cannabis use.

One of the genes commonly identified among the results of genomic approaches is the CNR1 gene, which codes for the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1R). CB1R is highly expressed in the brain and it is the primary target of the euphoric compound found in cannabis, i.e., delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Studies have shown that certain variants of the CNR1 gene are associated with a greater inclination to consume cannabis, as well as increased sensitivity to the effects of THC. The same can be said about the AKT1 gene, which codes for a protein involved in the regulation of cell growth and survival. In addition, other genes that have been associated with cannabis use include the DRD2 gene, which codes for a dopamine receptor involved in reward and motivation, and the FAAH gene, which codes for an enzyme involved in the breakdown of cannabinoids in the body.

It is important to note that the genetic basis of cannabis use is complex, multifactorial and polygenic, and individual genetic variants probably have little effect on an individual’s propensity to consume. Interactions between specific genetic susceptibilities and environmental factors, such as peer pressure, product availability, and social norms, also play an important role in cannabis use and its related consequences. However, the study of genetic factors makes it possible to explain the mechanisms involved in the response to psychoactive substances, which in turn ensures the ability to identify susceptibility factors that could be used to prevent possible harm or optimize certain benefits. It is thus important to consider genetic factors in the response to different cannabis products, an effort that we are promoting in the laboratory by including different genomic approaches to experimental designs involving cannabinoid administration in humans. This approach will be implemented in our next projects that will start in the upcoming months. Stay tuned to our projects to learn more.


Hillmer A, Chawar C, Sanger S, D’Elia A, Butt M, Kapoor R, Kapczinski F, Thabane L, Samaan Z. Genetic basis of cannabis use: a systematic review. BMC Med Genomics. 2021 Aug 12;14(1):203. doi: 10.1186/s12920-021-01035-5. PMID: 34384432; PMCID: PMC8359088.