I had my first DNA test done more than a decade ago, shortly after my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother survived breast cancer years earlier, and my aunt died of multiple forms of cancer. Naturally, the frequent occurrence of cancer in the women within my family tree terrified me, so I asked my doctor for a BRCA test — a genetic test that could determine whether or not I was predisposed to breast cancer. At that time, genetics tests were on the cutting edge of medical technology, and I had to prove to my insurance company why I was worthy of the $3,000 analysis.
What My DNA Taught Me about Cannabis
Today, genetics tests average around $200 and are just a click away. Dozens of online companies offer DNA analysis for everything from ancestry information to specialized diets and even fitness programs. While these tests have always piqued my interest, I honestly had a bit of skepticism that kept me from ordering one.
However, I recently had the opportunity to put my skepticism to the test in an area I was already well-informed — cannabis and endocannabinoid function.
Setting the Stage: Cannabis Consumer Individuality
My husband and I swapped thirteen pharmaceutical prescriptions for cannabis several years ago. Taking a methodical approach to finding the products that worked best for each of us, we journaled every new product we tried and the effects we received from it.
Soon, we started to discover that despite taking the same doses, we often experienced very different effects. For me, certain strains caused racing thoughts, paranoia, and anxiety, but I learned that strains high in limonene with a strong citrus aroma helped tremendously. Meanwhile, my husband learned edibles help with pain better than smoking or vaping, and we learned he got a much different effect from edibles than I did.
As a former budtender, I saw the differences from client to client. Some consumers swore by topicals, while others swore off edibles after experiencing the adverse effects of over-consumption.
So, as a writer in the cannabis industry, I began to research why we experienced such profound differences in how these products affected us. My research led me into a rabbit hole of enzyme production, genetic variances, and drug metabolism. While everything I was learning made sense, I had no way to confirm my theories.
As a journalist and editor for a tech publication focused on cannabis and hemp innovation, I get dozens of pitches every day. But you cannot imagine my delight when the opportunity came up for me to do a podcast with EndoDNA, CEO, Len May.
I immediately reached out to their PR firm, and said, “Hey, let’s make this super informative. Let’s do my DNA analysis and talk about the results on the show.”
Obviously, I realize I’m throwing my HIPPA rights out the window by putting my entire genetic makeup on the interwebs. Still, I felt like this was the only way to show my audience what a DNA analysis actually looks like and what type of information it can provide.
Additionally, because I am very well versed in how cannabis affects me personally, I felt I was the right candidate for validating the information provided by the report. I won’t lie, that little voice of skepticism was still lingering in the back of my mind, but this test would give me something tangible to compare my actual experiences too.
So, I waited patiently for my results and kept an open mind.
A Handbook, Not Gospel
Skip back to 2009, although I tested negative for the BRCA gene, my doctor explained to me that this result didn’t mean I couldn’t get breast cancer, it just meant that I didn’t have an increased risk for the disease. So, I still try to be vigilant, take care of myself, and do my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Likewise, the DNA tests provided by EndoDNA and others are not meant to be taken as gospel. Instead, they are to be used kind of like the“Choose Your Adventure”books popular in the 1980s, to help you make more educated decisions about the sort of adventure you want.
For example, if you have the allele (genetic variation), which could make you prone to aggression with cannabis use, it doesn’t mean that you’re absolutely going to act like King Kong when you toke up. You could smoke your entire life and never trigger that gene, but the possibility is still there. Having your DNA analysis simply gives you a guidebook of areas you might want to take into consideration.
If you are aware that you have the genetic marker which makes you more prone to alcoholism, you might think more carefully about how much or how often you drink. Likewise, if you know you’re prone to adverse effects from THC, you might want to choose cannabis products that are THC-free or contain a higher ratio of CBD.
Making informed decisions means having all the information.
When I received my results, I was blown away by the detailed data the report provided.
Data-Overload: Mind Blown
When I received my results, I was blown away by the detailed data the report provided. Fourteen categories drilled down into 63 sub-categories, which look at hundreds of genetic markers. Additionally, the report flags any notable variants links in relevant research and explains the findings.
The report proved for me that I don’t produce enough the FAAH enzymes necessary to break down edibles, which is why they’ve never done much for me. The report also showed what I already know; I am predisposed to extreme feelings of anxiety or paranoia if I’m not careful, and that limonene is a vital terpene for improving depression.
The Wellness Plan breaks down exactly where the problem areas lie and even goes as far as to suggest formulas and beneficial terpenes — all of which lined up with what I had already learned through trial and error. I was shocked at the accuracy.
Personalized Medicine and Cannabis
There’s no question; cannabis is not a drug that a doctor can simply hand to a patient and say, “Take two and call me in the morning,” which is probably what scares the professionals more than anything. However, science is catching up. Epigenetics and microbiology are deeply intertwined with cannabinoid research and endocannabinoid system function. I truly believe the days of mass-produced pharmaceuticals will soon be replaced with nano-formulations of specific compounds such as herbs, vitamins, and minerals.
For consumers, it pays to arm yourself with data. The more you know, the more aware you become, and sometimes a little awareness is all it takes to prevent a catastrophe.
Think of it like this; if you’re driving across the country and your GPS alerts you that there is construction ahead, you might choose to take a different route to avoid the hassle. This is a technology we can all appreciate. Likewise, if you have the data to help you avoid bumps in the road regarding your health, wouldn’t it pay to know?
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