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Researchers Say Marijuana Use May Cause
Genetic Mutations That Can Be Passed on to Children and Grandchildren
 
In what is certain to be a controversial study, researchers at the University of Western Australia say they believe they have identified the causal links between marijuana use and the development of serious diseases and problems, such as cancers, birth defects, and the inheritance of traits that can cause such problems in children and grandchildren. To understand their findings, first some definitions are required.
 
Genetics refers to how the characteristics of living things are transmitted from one generation to the next. Every living thing contains the genetic material that makes up DNA molecules. This material is passed on when organisms reproduce. The basic unit of heredity is the gene.
 
Epigenetics refers to external modifications to DNA molecules that turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA sequence. Instead, they affect how cells “read” genes by adding a chemical tag to part of a DNA molecule that prevents certain genes from being expressed (turned on or off).
 
Associate Professor Stuart Reece and Professor Gary Hulse from UWA’s School of Psychiatry and Clinical Sciences say they found that cancers and illnesses are likely caused by cell mutations resulting from cannabis properties having a chemical interaction with a person’s DNA. The professors completed an extensive analysis of literary and research material to understand the likely causal mechanisms.
 
Research has been confusing because some studies say marijuana can cause cancer, for example, while other studies find it can cure cancer. The researchers say the latter studies have been conducted with lower levels of marijuana use involving lower levels of THC and other marijuana extracts.
 
Studies showing marijuana associations with cancers, birth defects, and similar problems taking place in subsequent generations involve much higher levels of THC and other extracts that are used many times a day over long periods of time, in other words, in people who are addicted to the drug.
 
The heritability information is perhaps most disturbing.
 
“Although a person may appear to be healthy and lead a normal life, the unseen damage to their DNA could also be passed on to their children and cause illnesses for several generations to come,” says Professor Reece.
 
“Even if a mother has never used cannabis in her life, the mutations passed on by a father’s sperm can cause serious and fatal illnesses in their children,” he says. “The parents may not realize that they are carrying these mutations, which can lie dormant and may only affect generations down the track, which is the most alarming aspect.”
 
The researchers note that the heritability effects marijuana can have on future generations are not unique to marijuana. Similar effects can be passed down to future generations by mothers and/or fathers who are addicted to other drugs as well.

The study is published in the Mutation Research -- Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis.

Read stories here, here, and here. Read abstract here.
The Marijuana Report is a weekly e-newsletter published by National Families in Action in partnership with SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). Subscribe to The Marijuana Report and visit our website, The Marijuana Report.Org, to learn more about the marijuana story unfolding across the nation.

About National Families in Action (NFIA)
NFIA consists of families, scientists, business leaders, physicians, addiction specialists, policymakers, and others committed to protecting children from addictive drugs. Our vision is:
  • Healthy, drug-free kids
  • Nurturing, addiction-free families
  • Scientifically accurate information and education
  • A nation free of Big Marijuana
  • Smart, safe, FDA-approved medicines developed from the cannabis plant (and other plants) 
  • Expanded access to medicines in FDA clinical trials for children with epilepsy

About SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) 

SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of "incarceration versus legalization" when discussing marijuana use and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy. 

SAM has four main goals: 
  • To inform public policy with the science of today's marijuana.
  • To reduce the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.
  • To prevent the establishment of "Big Marijuana" - and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.
  • To promote research of marijuana's medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.
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