Exploring the Genetic Basis of Cannabis Dependency and Mental Well-Being

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Exploring the Genetic Basis of Cannabis Dependency and Mental Well-Being

Date of Content: November 1, 2023
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD



Is Cannabis Addictive?

Believe it or not, a sizable number of the human population has consumed or will consume cannabis at least once in their lifetime. While cannabis – also known as marijuana – is often used recreationally and medically, its side effects can still vary from person to person. 

Is cannabis addictive? Cannabis can cause dependence in certain people even if it isn’t as physiologically addictive as drugs such as opiates. The substance has a primarily psychological and behavioral addictive potential, which might result in a “cannabis use disorder” as opposed to a physical addiction. 

Frequent, heavy use, can develop into a psychological reliance that can cause tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and difficulty cutting back or quitting. Although not everyone who uses cannabis becomes dependent, those who use it heavily or regularly or from an early age are more likely to do so.

The likelihood of establishing a dependence is influenced by variables such as heredity, environment, and individual characteristics. Cannabis addiction can nonetheless have a major effect on a person’s life, impairing both their everyday functioning and mental health, even though it may not be as severe as addiction to other narcotics. For people who are struggling with cannabis usage, getting help and direction might be essential, especially from specialists in addiction and mental health.

Cannabis Dependence

What is Cannabis Dependence?

Cannabis dependence, also known as cannabis use disorder, is a complex and multifaceted condition that has a pattern of cannabis use characterized by a range of symptoms, including cravings, tolerance, withdrawal, and the inability to control or cut down on its use. In discussing this condition, it is important that individuals who may be affected by cannabis dependence are not stigmatized or marginalized.

Cannabis dependence is not a moral failing or a sign of weakness. Instead, it is influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. People of all backgrounds and walks of life can be affected by cannabis dependence, and it’s crucial to avoid stereotypes and judgments.

Individuals who experience cannabis dependence may find themselves using the substance more frequently or in larger amounts than they originally intended. They may also struggle with the will to quit or cut down, despite recognizing the negative impact on their health or daily life. 

Withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, insomnia, and loss of appetite, can further complicate their efforts to reduce or cease cannabis use. Treatment options for cannabis dependence are available, and they often involve a combination of counseling, therapy, and support groups. An inclusive and non-judgmental approach is essential when addressing the needs of individuals seeking help for cannabis dependence.

How is Cannabis Dependence Related to Mental Health?

Cannabis dependency is closely linked to mental health. While not everyone who uses cannabis develops a dependency, those who do may experience significant effects on their mental well-being. Individuals struggling with cannabis dependency often face a range of mental health challenges.

For some, cannabis use may serve as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or depression. However, over time, dependency can exacerbate these underlying mental health issues, creating a cycle that is difficult to break.

Cannabis addiction can also be exacerbated by mental health issues. Individuals who already have mental health issues may use cannabis as a self-medication to try to reduce their symptoms. This self-medicating strategy might cause reliance and possibly harm their mental health over time, even though it might offer short-term respite.

Cannabis usage has also been shown to precipitate or worsen symptoms in people suffering from mental health conditions including bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Because some people use cannabis to induce psychosis or exacerbate pre-existing psychotic symptoms, it’s imperative to use cannabis with caution and knowledge.

What Affects Cannabis Dependence?

Numerous interrelated factors, including genetics, environment, and psychology, all play a role in cannabis dependence. It takes a comprehensive approach that goes beyond personal preference to comprehend the factors that contribute to cannabis dependence. 

An individual’s susceptibility to dependence is influenced by hereditary predispositions and environmental factors, including early exposure and social influences. The complex topic of cannabis dependence is shaped by psychological factors that interact with these influences, such as coping strategies and mental health issues. Understanding and effectively resolving this issue needs acknowledging and addressing these complex factors.

Genetic Factors for Cannabis Dependence

Research into the genetic markers for cannabis dependence has revealed a complex interplay between multiple genes, each contributing in various ways to an individual’s susceptibility. It’s important to approach this topic with sensitivity, understanding that genetic predisposition does not define a person and that these markers are just one aspect of a multifaceted condition.

CNR1 Gene

Several genes have been identified as potential contributors to cannabis dependence. Variations in the endocannabinoid system genes, particularly the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CNR1) gene, have been suggested to increase the risk of cannabis dependence. These variations can influence how the endocannabinoid system functions, potentially impacting an individual’s response to cannabis.

AKT1 Gene

Genes associated with dopamine regulation, such as the AKT1 gene, have been implicated in the development of dependence. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the brain’s reward system, and variations in genes regulating dopamine levels may affect how the brain responds to the rewarding effects of cannabis.


The COMT gene, involved in the breakdown of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, has also been studied in relation to cannabis dependence. Variations in this gene may influence an individual’s response to stress and may contribute to the risk of dependence as a coping mechanism.

APOA2 Gene

The lipid metabolism and digestion of dietary fat are associated with the APOA2 gene. A person’s reaction to dietary fat intake can be impacted by variations in this gene, which may result in weight fluctuations. Some variations can make a person more susceptible to the amount of dietary fat in their diet.

CADM2 Gene

CADM2 is linked to substance use and risk-taking behaviors. Several genetic variants associated with lifetime cannabis use have been found in this gene (e.g. rs7651996 and rs1375547).

The study also showed that using cannabis alters the activity of certain genes compared to those who don’t use it. Cannabis use is found to be connected to various other factors like smoking, alcohol use, schizophrenia, and risk-taking. Interestingly, the study suggests that the risk of schizophrenia might actually influence cannabis use.

Other Genetic Markers

In another large GWAS study, three particular regions in the DNA had a strong connection to cannabis dependence. These areas, marked by specific genetic changes (rs143244591 in TM4SF18-AS1, rs146091982 in SLC35G1, and rs77378271 in CSMD1), were linked to cannabis dependence symptoms.

Additionally, connections between cannabis dependence and other mental health issues like major depressive disorder and schizophrenia were discovered through shared genetic factors. 

Other genetic markers for cannabis dependence that are included in LifeDNA’s Cannabis Dependence and Mental Health Report include rs9773390 (ZNF704), rs9919557 (NCAM1), rs10499 (RABEP2, ATP2A1), and rs17761723 (SMG6).

Although these genetic markers provide information about a possible susceptibility to cannabis dependence, it is important to stress that genetics is only one part of the picture. The development of cannabis dependence is influenced by both personal experiences and environmental influences. 

The likelihood of establishing dependence can be influenced by a variety of factors, including early cannabis exposure, social effects, trauma, stress, and genetic predispositions. Neither the presence nor the absence of these genetic markers confers immunity or dependency. Their impact is complex and interacts with various other elements in a person’s life.

In this area, research is still being conducted to better understand the intricate genetic makeup of cannabis dependence. The goal is to apply this knowledge to create interventions and therapies that are more individualized and successful.

Genetic markers have the ability to guide early intervention techniques or individualized approaches that take into account an individual’s genetic predispositions, hence facilitating more focused and efficient support strategies.

Environmental Factors for Cannabis Dependence

The development of cannabis dependence is significantly influenced by environmental circumstances, which have a variety of effects on individuals. It’s important to talk about the effects of these environmental factors without blaming or stigmatizing the people suffering from this condition.

Early Exposure to Cannabis

As the brain is still developing during adolescence, it has been determined that the environment plays a critical role. Teenagers who dabble with cannabis or use it frequently may be at a higher risk of becoming dependent on it in the future. Exposure to cannabis during a crucial developmental period has the potential to influence attitudes and actions related to cannabis usage.

Social Influences and Peer Pressure

Peer pressure and social influences can also raise the risk of cannabis dependence. An individual’s relationship with cannabis can be greatly impacted by environmental factors, such as social circles or communities where cannabis usage is acceptable or promoted. An individual’s beliefs and usage patterns are influenced by a variety of factors, including peer group dynamics, cultural norms, and parental attitudes regarding cannabis.

Experiences of Trauma, Stress, or Adverse Life Events

Adverse life events, stress, and traumatic experiences are other environmental factors that might lead to cannabis dependence. People who use cannabis as a coping method for mental anguish or who are under a lot of stress may become dependent on the substance.

Easy Access to Cannabis

Another environmental aspect that affects dependence is easy access to cannabis. Cannabis availability and accessibility, whether through legal or illicit means, can influence usage habits. Social views, accessibility, and regulatory frameworks can all influence a person’s risk of becoming dependent.

Economic and Social Context

Cannabis dependence can have an impact on a person’s life within the economic and social context. Career options, educational prospects, and socioeconomic level can all have an impact on the patterns of substance use.

People who are experiencing financial difficulties or do not have access to resources, for example, may be more likely to use cannabis as a coping technique, which could result in dependence.

Understanding these environmental factors is important for creating interventions and preventative strategies that work. Tailored techniques to assist in reducing the likelihood of cannabis dependence and providing appropriate care to those afflicted can be established by addressing these aspects early on and offering support systems that take into account an individual’s environment.

Does Cannabis Impact Mental Health?

For some, cannabis serves as a means of relaxation and stress relief, potentially alleviating symptoms of anxiety or providing a temporary escape from emotional distress. However, its effects on mental health are not universally positive. Prolonged or heavy cannabis use has been associated with various mental health concerns.

Research suggests that cannabis use, particularly in vulnerable individuals, may exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions. The use could potentially intensify symptoms of anxiety, depression, or paranoia. Additionally, in individuals with a predisposition to psychotic disorders, cannabis use might trigger or worsen psychotic episodes.

There’s evidence indicating a correlation between heavy cannabis use in adolescence and an increased risk of developing mental health issues later in life. The developing brain during adolescence might be more susceptible to the impact of cannabis, potentially affecting cognitive functions and mental health.

What are the Symptoms of Cannabis Dependence?

Cannabis dependence encompasses a spectrum of symptoms that can affect individuals who use this substance. 

Increased Tolerance

Over time, individuals may find that they need larger amounts of cannabis to achieve the same effects they initially experienced with smaller doses. This increased tolerance can lead to escalated usage.

Cravings and Compulsive Use

Those experiencing cannabis dependence might feel strong and persistent cravings for the substance. Despite efforts to cut down or quit, they might find themselves compulsively using cannabis.

Difficulty Controlling Use

Individuals with dependence might struggle to control or manage their cannabis use. They may have unsuccessful attempts at reducing their consumption or may use it in larger amounts or for a longer period than intended.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Upon reducing or discontinuing cannabis use, individuals might experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, sleep disturbances, decreased appetite, and restlessness. These symptoms can make it challenging to stop using the substance.

Neglect of Responsibilities

Cannabis dependence can lead to neglect of personal, professional, or social responsibilities. Individuals might prioritize cannabis use over obligations and relationships, leading to difficulties in various areas of their lives.

Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences

Despite being aware of the negative impact of cannabis use on their health, work, relationships, or legal status, individuals with dependence might continue to use the substance.

It’s important to note that not everyone who uses cannabis will experience these symptoms. The severity and combination of symptoms can vary widely among individuals. It’s also crucial to approach these symptoms with an understanding that they do not define a person and that seeking support for these symptoms is a positive step towards well-being.

Recognizing these symptoms is crucial in providing support and understanding for individuals experiencing cannabis dependence. Sensitivity and inclusivity in discussions about these symptoms help create a non-judgmental and supportive environment for those seeking help.

Treatment and support systems should be tailored to address these symptoms in a comprehensive and compassionate manner, promoting recovery and well-being for affected individuals.

Ways to Lessen Cannabis Dependence

Addressing cannabis dependence requires a multifaceted approach that incorporates support, understanding, and tailored interventions.

Seek Support and Guidance

Encouraging individuals experiencing cannabis dependence to seek support from professionals, support groups, or trusted individuals is a crucial first step.

  • Therapy and Counseling: Behavioral therapies and counseling can be highly effective in addressing cannabis dependence. Therapists work with individuals to identify triggers, develop coping mechanisms, and address underlying issues contributing to their cannabis use.
  • Support Networks and Peer Groups: Peer support groups provide a sense of community and understanding for individuals facing cannabis dependence. Sharing experiences and learning from others’ journeys can be a powerful way to navigate recovery.
  • Creating a Supportive Environment: Establishing a supportive and understanding environment within families, workplaces, and communities is essential. Encouraging open communication and understanding without judgment can help individuals feel safe seeking support.

Building Healthy Habits

Encouraging the development of healthy routines and habits can aid in reducing dependence. Engaging in activities that promote overall well-being, such as exercise, hobbies, or mindfulness practices, can help in coping with cravings and managing stress.

  • Gradual Reduction Strategies: Some individuals might benefit from gradually reducing their cannabis intake. Often guided by healthcare professionals, structured plans can help individuals decrease usage over time.
  • Addressing Co-occurring Mental Health Issues: For individuals experiencing both cannabis dependence and mental health concerns, a holistic approach that addresses both issues is vital. Integrating treatment for mental health conditions alongside support for cannabis dependence is crucial for effective recovery.

Medical Intervention and Medication

In some cases, medication or medical intervention might be necessary, especially for individuals experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Healthcare professionals can provide guidance on the most appropriate medical support.

The path to lessening cannabis dependence is highly individual. What works for one person might not work for another, and it often involves a combination of strategies tailored to the individual’s needs. Understanding that cannabis dependence doesn’t define a person and that seeking help is a positive step towards well-being is vital in creating an environment that promotes understanding and support. 

By providing comprehensive and sensitive support systems that respect individuals seeking help for cannabis dependence, the journey toward recovery and well-being becomes more accessible and empowering.

LifeDNA's Cannabis Dependence and Mental Health

Cannabis dependence can be a difficult condition to recover from but not at all impossible. LifeDNA leverages cutting-edge genetic insights to tailor a program just for you. We analyze your DNA to understand if you have genetic factors that influence your potential for cannabis dependence and how this may affect your mental well-being.

With LifeDNA’s Cannabis Dependence and Mental Health Report, you’ll get a custom wellness plan that matches your genetic profile, targeted recommendations to maximize results, as well as insights into how your genes affect your cannabis dependence potential. We also offer you ongoing support and updates as your body’s needs change.  

Choose the power of personalization with LifeDNA, and unlock the path to your healthiest, happiest self. Embrace your DNA, and start your LifeDNA journey today.


  • Cannabis isn’t biologically addictive like opiates, yet it can nevertheless lead to dependence in some users. 
  • Instead of producing a physical addiction, the substance has the potential to cause a “cannabis use disorder” due to its largely psychological and behavioral addictive properties.
  • Cannabis addiction, sometimes referred to as cannabis use disorder, is a complicated and multidimensional syndrome characterized by a pattern of cannabis use marked by a variety of symptoms, such as tolerance, cravings, withdrawal, and the inability to control or reduce cannabis usage.
  • Cannabis users who get dependent on the drug may find that they use it more frequently or in greater quantities than they had planned. In addition, even when they are aware of the detrimental effects on their health or well-being, they could battle with the need to stop or reduce cannabis use.
  • Reducing cannabis dependence is a very personal journey. What works for one person may not work for another, and the best solutions frequently combine a variety of needs-specific tactics. 
  • Encouraging people to seek help for cannabis dependence through sensitive and all-encompassing support networks makes the path to recovery and well-being easier to navigate and more empowering.


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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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