Your baby boomer parents probably didn’t realize all the weed they were smoking in the Sixties and Seventies could have an effect on their future kids.
Using cannabis could have a “transgenerational” impact on your offspring, according to Dr. Yasmin Hurd, director of the center for addictive disorders at New York’s Mount Sinai Health System and professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, and pharmacological sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine.
What happens to you in your lifetime could influence the generations after you, Hurd tells Jane Street. “Genetics are the DNA sequence you inherit,” she says. “Epigenetics are the tags that go onto your DNA, reflecting the experiences and environments of a lifetime.” Our biology is more than our genetics, she explains. It is the interaction between genetics and environment. “Epigenetics allows for cross-generational — or transgenerational — effects to occur.”
In two published studies, Hurd and her fellow researchers discovered that giving THC, weed’s main psychoactive compound, to animal models only during their adolescence before they ever conceived offspring, nonetheless influenced the next generation. “Their adult kids, who were not exposed themselves, showed differences in behavior, such as reward sensitivity, as well as epigenetic modifications in the brain,” she says. The next generation had a greater sensitivity to rewards, meaning that if given an opiate, they would self-administer that opiate more than the offspring whose parents weren’t exposed to THC.
“The animal models help us get insight into what’s possible biologically, but humans have a lot more complexities in how you’re raised and different opportunities that might counter some of the negatives,” says Hurd. Still with reward sensitivity, if someone is more sensitive to opioids, they could be more vulnerable to addiction if they’re given pain medication. “Things like this have to be considered,” she says.
These effects, however, aren’t unique to THC. Other studies with alcohol and cocaine have shown similar results in reward seeking behavior.
This isn’t all to say that you should stop smoking weed for the sake of your future kids, or that you’ll do them a disservice if you continue to use cannabis. Chances are you know many stoners who have gone on to parent healthy children without any addiction issues.
Though it’s naive to think that cannabis is completely benign, Hurd suggests. “I do think there are components of marijuana that have medicinal value absolutely,” she says, “But just because it doesn’t have a huge overdose effect doesn’t mean that everything about marijuana is great. When people smoke it or use it, it’s at much higher levels than your own endogenous cannabinoid system. You also have a natural endogenous opioid system, but opiates can still kill you. Everything is about a physiological window.”
She says that more research is needed. For instance, further studies into CBD, a non-psychotropic compound in cannabis, showed different effects than THC: CBD actually reduced opiate seeking behavior, she said.
“I think we need to really use marijuana in a way that can promote true health, and the only way to do that is to have evidence-based research done,” Hurd says. “But the regulatory burdens are a lock to studying marijuana. We need the federal government to change the regulatory rules to make it possible for researchers to study.”