About a year ago, the head of a cannabis company approached genetic technology expert John Lem with a problem; why did he have an adverse reaction from pot when everyone else who had smoked the same joint seemed fine?
So Lem set out to find whether there was a genetic explanation for the different ways people react to THC, and that’s how his Toronto-based company Lobo Genetics was born.
“Looking into the science, we came to the conclusion that there is actually a genetic basis for someone’s reaction to THC,” said Lem.
Through a simple cheek swab, Lobo Genetics examines three genes to see how your body interacts with THC.
The genes, Lem says, reveal how you metabolize the drug, whether you’re prone to memory loss, and if you have an increased risk of paranoia while you’re high, or a long term risk of developing schizophrenia.
“If people understand how their body reacts to cannabis, that’s a good thing,” said Lem, adding that this can help consumers make informed decisions when purchasing pot.
A glimpse, experts say, not a full picture
But one doctor says not so fast.
Dr. Bernard Le Foll was part of team from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that developed recommendations on using cannabis. He says it’s premature to say these types of genetic tests are a one-stop shop for understanding our reaction to THC.
“There has been limited research done on cannabis,” Le Foll said.
“The types of studies on which [Lobo Genetics’] tests are based are done on a very small number of subjects … I think it will require those studies to be done on larger amounts of subjects for them to be really valid.”
The three genes Lobo Genetics looks at are:
- CYP2C9 influences how we metabolize drugs. A mutation in this gene can affect how long it takes someone to break down THC, meaning one person can stay high for a longer time than another person using the same dose.
- AKT1 is involved in many cellular functions. A few studies have shown that a variation in this gene could put you at risk for developing psychosis.
- COMT plays a role in the breakdown of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine levels affect cognitive function and a variation of this gene can affect your memory.
How the test works
The test is simple. You use the swab provided to get a sample from the inside of your cheek and send it in. A few days later, you can access your results on Lobo’s website. They’re broken down in three categories: metabolism, psychosis risk and memory loss. The risk is also graded from low to high.