The University of Colorado Studies Cannabis and Twins
The number of states across America legalizing cannabis has been on a steady increase. The cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing business sectors in the United States, expected to provide more new jobs than manufacturing by 2020. Now researchers at the University of Colorado are using twins to try to get to the bottom of how cannabis legalization affects residents of the states who have implemented legal cannabis programs.
The $5.5 million study will use sets of identical and fraternal twins from Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, and Minnesota, which has a strict, non-smoking medical program. The participants are a part of an ongoing, 15-20 year study and are between the ages of 23 and 29. They have been providing information about any substance use, about their overall health, and about their social, educational, and professional lives. The researchers want to determine if legalization has an impact on their family lives, careers, and/or mental health. If indeed there is an impact, the study hopes to find out whether certain groups of people are more likely to be affected than others.
The study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and is the first and currently only study of its kind in the US.
Increased Use, A Lack of Information
While more and more states implement legal cannabis programs and public favor increases, researchers rightly point out that, “we know nothing about the social and health consequences of this rapid and dramatic shift.” Indeed, we are entering a new age of mainstream marijuana acceptance that we’ve never seen before, and it’s important that we study the changes this brings to our society. “The experiment now unfolding in Colorado provides a rare opportunity to accumulate solid scientific evidence,” says John Hewitt. Hewitt is the co-principal investigator of the study and serves as the director of the Institute of Behavioral Genetics at CU Boulder.
Cannabis Innovations Bring New Questions
Two recent developments in cannabis usage are unseen before: new methods of ingestion , such as dabbing, and higher levels of THC. But we haven’t determined what safe and recommended levels of consumption are. The study will collect information on how the participants are using cannabis, how much, and how potent it is. Perhaps the information will bring us closer to defining a safe, recommended limit, like we have with other medications.
The researchers will use phone and internet to communicate with the twins. They will look at the changes in behavior pre and post recreational legalization for the group in Colorado, and are including the twins from Minnesota as a control group. They need to know whether factors other than recreational legalization could be impacting their study, and the Minnesota twins will provide that information.
How Cannabis Affects Overall Life and Health
Participants in this study are at an important developmental window in life and are undergoing a number of role transitions. The researchers will, therefore, ask them about whether they are successfully achieving professional goals, if they have healthy interpersonal relationships, and whether they are experiencing any mental health difficulties.
The use of twins in the study ensures that researchers can take genetic and environmental factors into account when looking into what makes some people more vulnerable to negative side effects of legalization than others.
At its crux, those behind this study hope that the information they find will allow medical professionals and caregivers to make better recommendations to their patients when it comes to how much cannabis to use, the potency of the cannabis, and how to consume it.