How to personalize your pot with a genetics test

Your genetic makeup might influence how you experience cannabis

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While cannabis has numerous possible therapeutic uses, a person’s genetic makeup may ultimately influence how they experience it.

Since cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, a number of healthcare technology companies have emerged, offering cannabis genetics tests that can help consumers discover strains that are a perfect match for their personal chemistry.

Everyone’s physiology and endocannabinoid systems are unique, so the effects of cannabis are highly individualized. Aaron Goldman, chief science officer at DNALabs in Toronto, explains that a consumer’s experience will depend on many individual factors, including their age, gender, previous experience with cannabis and other drugs as well as their overall mental and physical health.

“For example, everyone metabolizes drugs, including cannabis, at different rates,” says Goldman.

DNALabs has been offering genetics testing to match patients with prescription drugs as well as personalized nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations since 2016. When cannabis was legalized, Goldman and his team saw an opportunity to introduce a cannabis sensitivity test to consumers as a way to deliver customized strains recommendations.

Not all cannabis is created equal

As any recreational or medical cannabis user will attest, not all weed is created equal, and the options can be overwhelming, particularly for newbies.

Currently, the majority of consumers choose strains based on the effects they desire. Each strain comes with a description, which is based on surveys of hundreds of people who’ve already tried it. For example, Northern Lights, Purple Punch, and Blue Cheese  all indica strains – are widely known to induce drowsiness. Meanwhile, Sour Diesel, Jack Herer, and Green Crack – all sativa strains – are known to have an energizing effect on users. 

Whether they’re looking for a creative boost, a good night’s sleep, or feelings of euphoria, there is a cannabis strain for everyone.

About 99 percent of the strains, however, are a combination of indica and sativa. Goldman says that due to global breeding programs, hybrid strains lack a consistent chemical fingerprint tied to the highly individual effects of pure sativa and indica strains.

“Almost every strain is a hybrid of 100 different strains,” he adds.

From DNA to THC

While Goldman says there could certainly be some truth to user reviews, he points out that if cannabis consumers really want to personalize their experience, a genetics test may be the best option. 

DNALabs’ TestMyTolerance cannabis sensitivity test is an easy-to-understand genetics test that will provide consumers with useful information about how their bodies react to cannabis. A simple cheek swab, which can be done at home, reveals information about 20 different genetic markers and better insight into how an individual will respond to THC, CBD, and other cannabis compounds.

“It’s going to be more important as people move from smoking to edibles,” says Goldman.

With edibles, THC and CBD are metabolized in the liver, resulting in stronger and longer-lasting effects. A user with slower metabolizers will feel even more intense effects and for a much longer period of time.

“If you metabolize THC slowly, especially if you’re a daily user, it’s going to build up to higher levels,” says Goldman. “Someone who has a risk of psychosis should take low THC. Start low and go slow, but maybe start slower.”

On the other hand, if you have a fast metabolism, you may not feel a strain’s therapeutic effects at all.

“I tried CBD and didn’t feel anything,” said Goldman. “That was before my genetics test.”

Personalized medicine, driven by data

TestMyTolerance and similar cannabis genetics tests address numerous concerns, particularly for new cannabis consumers or individuals who wish to switch from cannabis flower to cannabis edibles.

From a medical perspective, there are even more benefits.

“The biggest opportunity here is on the research side,” says Goldman. “With a large enough sample size, we can possibly determine the right strain and dosage to individualize treatment for a variety of conditions.”

This is going to be especially important for patients. For example, he says data from a thousand epilepsy patients could help specialists determine which strains are working and which ones are not.

“We may be able to stratify patients based on the genetic variants they carry and determine that a certain strain works best for those with specific genetic variants,” explains Goldman. “Then we may be able to look at the genetics of new patients and say that, based on their genes, they should use strain X at dosage Y.”

While the DNA sequences of any two humans are 99.9 percent identical, the minuscule 0.1 percent difference accounts for three million variants. Knowing how their DNA interacts with cannabis will help consumers not only achieve their desired effect but also take more control of their long-term health.

Different cannabis strains can result in widely different effects, but finding the perfect one doesn’t have to be a guessing game.

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