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Northwestern MedicineMarijuana Use Linked to Epigenetic Changes

A recent Northwestern Medicine study uncovers the relationship between marijuana use and modifications in the human epigenome. This pioneering research, published in Molecular Psychiatry, could inform future explorations of the health impacts of marijuana use, a topic still veiled in uncertainty despite the substance’s widespread consumption.

Key Points:

  • The study conducted DNA methylation profiling on blood samples from more than 900 adults, collected five years apart, revealing associations between marijuana use and changes in the human epigenome.
  • Both recent and cumulative marijuana use were linked with a significant number of DNA methylation markers: 22 and 31 from the first set of samples, and 132 and 16 from the second.
  • Many of these epigenetic alterations were found in pathways previously connected to cellular proliferation, hormone signaling, infections, and mental health disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders.

Additional Points:

  • The study did not establish a causal relationship between marijuana use and epigenetic changes, nor between those epigenetic changes and observed health outcomes.
  • The study highlighted a marker previously associated with tobacco use, suggesting potential shared epigenetic regulation between tobacco and marijuana use.


  • Further investigations are required to confirm these findings and explore potential links between marijuana use, epigenetic alterations, and health outcomes.

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“In our study, we observed associations between cumulative marijuana use and multiple epigenetic markers across time.”

Lifang Hou, MD, PhD
Lead Author
Chief of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention
Department of Preventive Medicine
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