Using Cannabis Can Alter Your DNA Structure, Claims Study

Using cannabis could alter a person’s DNA structure, and a mechanism has been identified by scientists from The University of Western Australia. The alterations may cause mutations, which can expose people to serious illnesses, and be passed on to their children and several future generations.

Although a possible association between cannabis use and severe illnesses such as cancer has previously been documented, how this occurs and the implications for future generations was not previously understood.

Associate Professor Stuart Reece and Professor Gary Hulse from UWA’s School of Psychiatry and Clinical Sciences completed an analysis of literary and research material to understand the likely causes and uncovered alarming information.

“Through our research we found that cancers and illnesses were likely caused by cell mutations resulting from cannabis properties having a chemical interaction with a person’s DNA,” Associate Professor Reece said. “With cannabis use increasing globally in recent years, this has a concerning impact for the population.”

Although a person may appear to be healthy and lead a normal life, the unseen damage to their DNA could also be passed on to their children and cause illnesses for several generations to come.

“Even if a mother has never used cannabis in her life, the mutations passed on by a father’s sperm can cause serious and fatal illnesses in their children,” he said. “The parents may not realise that they are carrying these mutations, which can lie dormant and may only affect generations down the track, which is the most alarming aspect.”

Slow Cell Growth

Associate Professor Reece said that when the chemicals in cannabis changed a person’s DNA structure it could lead to slow cell growth and have serious implications for the fetal development of babies that may cause limbs or vital organs not to develop properly or cause cancers.

“The worst cancers are reported in the first few years of life in children exposed in utero to cannabis effects,” he said.

Reece added that the finding was of major importance with cannabis use increasing in many nations around the world, and many countries legalising its use.

“Some people may say that previous data collected doesn’t show there are serious effects from using cannabis, but many authorities acknowledge that there is now a much larger consumption of cannabis use compared to previous years,” he said.

The study carries implications for researchers, medical health professionals and governments in regulating drug use and protecting those who are most vulnerable.

Albert Stuart Reece et al.
Chromothripsis and epigenomics complete causality criteria for cannabis- and addiction-connected carcinogenicity, congenital toxicity and heritable genotoxicity
Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2016.05.002

Image: Cannabis Culture/Danny Kresnyak/Flickr

15 comments comments closed

  1. Key words: “can, may & might”

    I call prohibitionist bullshit.

  2. This paper is authored by a man named Dr. Albert Stuart Reece, a psychiatrist (not a microbiologist) whose main claim to fame is being “Drug Free Australia’s Shameful Secret.” Drug Free Australia is not a medical organization as much as it is a right-wing lobbying group, offering little in terms of policy advice other than punitive measures.

    Apparently, Dr. Reece was the supervising physician for 25 patient fatalities in 20 months using a supposed detoxification drug called Naltrexone, a drug controversially approved by the FDA after only a single clinical trial in Russia. Dr. Reece was not held liable for the deaths, but his name has been mud in almost every respected medical circle in that hemisphere, ever since. That’s why he found a new place to publish: The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, a biased, not peer reviewed, drug war mouthpiece journal funded by the United States Department of Justice.

    Dr. Reece famously (and fallaciously) implied that 590 patients died because of their use of methadone, which misconstrued the facts of those deaths — the patients died for various reasons, but simply tested positive for methadone in the coroner’s reports. Dr. Reece’s publication record of cooked data and misrepresented facts reflect his self-professed “deeply religious beliefs” that certain behaviors and policies are immoral. He believes “science is immoral, evolution is immoral, democracy is immoral.” Dr. Reece famously coined the phrase “hedonistic delirium” to describe modern democracies.

    Anything not backed by biblical discipline is of course, immoral. There is a reason over 93% of the members of the National Science Foundation are not religious — fundamentalists often cannot rectify their beliefs with scientific objectivity. Dr. Reece is no exception, but tries to force reality to match his beliefs instead of changing his beliefs to match reality. Shortly, after the deaths of his 25 patients, Dr. Reece professed himself an unapologetic faith healer, claiming that belief in the lord could cure addiction. Dr. Reece once foolishly testified to a Senate committee that there was a correlation between condom sales and AIDS deaths after showing a slide of the archaeological site of Sodom (featuring tree of snakes), while he spouted spectacular claims about divine punishment.

    You may be thinking “isn’t this just an attack on the author?” In a way, it is, but examining his credibility, establishing his scientific bonifides, and investigating biases is important. However, what would be more useful is being able to read the article, which has not been made public. Viewing the article requires a paid subscription to the journal in which it was published, Mutation Research, a journal with a paltry impact factor of 3.68, which means hardly anyone subscribes or reads it. To put it into perspective, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has an impact factor of 9.674 while the journal Nature has an impact factor of 41.456.

    It appears as though nobody who is reporting this paper’s publication has been able to read it. There are no details of specific phenotype mutations offered. There’s no corresponding data given. The details of this paper are not being made public. Essentially, there’s an extremely “iffy” smell coming from the general direction of this publication stemming from the lack of any/all detail. The paper was written and titled to attract headlines, not scientists, which is why it has only been cited by newsgroups.

    My guess, as I have not yet found the actual paper, is that access to the paper is low and the details are not forthcoming because Dr. Reece has once again twisted objective reality to match his right-wing fundamentalist beliefs. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, Dr. Stuart Albert Reece is a quack and anything he says or publishes is highly suspect.

    • Did not know that about Dr. Reece. Thanks so much for taking the time to give post this background information.

      Always important to put research like this in context.

      PS. I was able to find a copy of the paper by searching at http://www.sci-hub[dot]cc , using the search term DOI: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2016.05.002.

      • I’ve only spent a few hours with the paper so far, but I think I understand how Dr. Reece arrived at his off-base conclusions. By and large, most research into cancer (which is caused by damaged DNA) and cannabis addresses the ways in which cannabis treatments are correlated to cancer remission and lower instance rates of different types of cancer. Just last December, Jimmy Carter credited cannabis for curing his cancer. That’s why Dr. Reece’s paper is totally out of left field — it’s quotable headline contradicts the overwhelming majority of current research and observed cases.

        There are a few things to know about Dr. Reece’s paper.

        It’s important to understand from the onset that Dr. Reece didn’t conduct any sort of experiments to reach these conclusions. This paper is a literature review of other papers, which makes understanding *this* paper’s conclusions that much more difficult, as Dr. Reece frequently references other such literature reviews. Generally, it’s odd and confusing to nest references to other literature reviews within another one.

        First, it appears as though most of the effects on genes by cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBN, etc.) Dr. Reece cites in his paper were from experiments conducted “in vitro” back in the 1970s and 1980s. One such study is inappropriately cited in the bibliography as being published in 1999, but it is in fact from 1978 (just a simple error). The reason the “in vitro” distinction is an important one to make is that these are “test tube” studies in which the subject of study — genes and chromosomes — are extracted from their natural environment (usually animal cell nuclei) and subjected to experimental conditions to observe an effect. Dr. Reece references studies from +30 years ago in which genetic material was extracted from cells and subjected to prolonged, direct exposure to relatively large quantities (to the cellular level) of cannabinoids.

        Microbiologists are cautioned against improperly extrapolating the results from such “in vitro” experiments to effects on the larger organism because it’s hardly sound to imply, for example, that DNA will ever be fully immersed in THC for five hours outside of a cell, then reintroduced (somehow). The usefulness of such conclusions would be relevant if we were actively injecting THC in large, unrealistic quantities directly into the nuclei of our cells. The reason these particular in vitro studies are so old (+30 years) is that scientists regarded their conclusions as useless decades ago, given the laboratory conditions imposed, so they stopped doing them.

        Those types of studies are to be starkly contrasted with “in vivo” experiments, which involve the whole organism (not “test tube” lab conditions that don’t occur naturally). Dr. Reece references half a dozen relatively recent in vivo studies that were used to justify his highly improper leap of reasoning from observed in vitro effects to full-organism, in vivo causality. A direct quote from the paper:
        “In several cases a dose related response has been shown [56, 65, 68, 71, 73, 77], which, together with a now plausible biological mechanism, implies causality.”

        The referenced studies he claims show dose related responses all have severe methodological issues. Several were from nations (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria) in which stratification for known environmental carcinogens were either ignored or not recorded, allowing for errant results. The third reference is a survey of patients in a legal medical cannabis state, which erroneously conflated cannabis treatment as a cause of cancer (a type 1 error). The Urology paper failed to properly stratify their sample by military service, pulling subjects positive for cannabis use exclusively from a pool of Veterans Affairs patients who lost their medical coverage for testing positive for THC. The final reference is to another broad-subject literature review (similar to this one, but wider) that does not directly describe any such dose-related response data, so I don’t understand why Dr. Reece would reference that review paper instead of the papers within that allegedly prove his point. In my opinion, Dr. Reece tried to gloss over his leap from in vitro observations to in vivo conclusions by stringing together very questionable references without any attempt to justify their conclusions.

        Basically, Dr. Reece uses these bad in vivo studies as a justification to improperly imply the observations from the in vitro studes from the 70s and 80s are occurring in human beings who use cannabis. This is very wrong. A fitting analogy would be to say “There have been drowning deaths in the Pacific, so you will also drown when it’s raining on a mountain top because rain is also made of water.”

        What’s interesting is that Dr. Reece *does* reference the most famous in vivo study that observed negative correlations between cannabis use and incidences of respiratory cancer (cannabis users with lower cancer rates than normal), the D.P. Tashkin study, but only when he attempts to impugn their results by describing their properly stratified sample as “serendipitous” (not exactly scientific) and by questioning their definition of “heavy cannabis use.” His quick dismissal of their results boil down to a single, undeveloped semantic objection.

        Dr. Reece noticeably omits dozens of other such studies. In the past three years, there have been many papers addressing various types of cancer, such as leukemia and glioblastoma, addressing both cases of remission as well as reduced cancer rates. 20 minutes on Google provides a wealth of knowledge into the apoptotic, anti-angiogenic, and anti-metastatic effects of cannabis-based treatments for cancerous tumors. Dr. Reece’s selections aren’t so much cherry-picked as they are needles in haystacks of evidence contradicting his conclusions.

        Since the main point of this paper was about genetic mutations, I haven’t examined the references he makes to papers regarding prenatal effects because (a) nobody thinks pregnant women should smoke *anything*, and (b) it appears several of these citations are, once again, largely conducted on embryos and fetal tissue in vitro.

        In one of the final sections of the paper in which Dr. Reece discusses “Other Microtubule Functions,” he actually references several papers from the Groopman and Munson research groups that show cannabis demonstrates anti-tumor properties, but he simply dismisses them out of hand without any specific justification for the dismissal given, other than the implication that the papers he referenced earlier are superior/better, somehow.

        The second to last section of Dr. Reece’s paper discusses defects developed in the womb due to exposure to *other* substances besides cannabis, which have been proven to cause ill-effects in utero, such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and amphetamines. His conclusion to this section is that any/all addictive substances complicate pregnancy, and I assume he’s lumping cannabis into that category. But again, *nobody* advocates for pregnant women to consume alcohol, use cocaine, or engage any other such reckless activities.

        That’s how Dr. Reece transitions to the final section of his paper in which he discusses the Barker Theory, aka, “thrifty phenotype” which suggests what we experience in the womb can have health impacts later in life. But again, nobody advocates for pregnant women to engage in risky behaviors.

        Having read this paper top to bottom, I cannot agree with Dr. Reece’s conclusions. His leap from in vitro experimental results from 30+ years ago to supposedly observed in vivo effects gleaned from a handful of shoddy studies is not sound, scientific reasoning. Furthermore, I’d suggest that, if cannabis use truly had an impact on observed rates of cancer, Western countries would have observed rates of cancer fluctuating causally with the ever-changing rates of cannabis use. Cannabis use dropped significantly in the 1980s, but there weren’t subsequent reductions in cancer rates. Dr. Reece pays lip-service to respected cannabis research only to dismiss their findings, choosing instead to rely upon less respected studies.

        At first glance, yes, this paper looked scary. Having spent the last several hours with it, combing through its references and attempting to follow Dr. Reece’s thin lines of reasoning, I’m honestly shocked it survived *any* peer review. Had I not known about Dr. Reece’s cannabis bias stemming from his religious fundamentalism and political affiliations, I’m fairly certain I would *still* arrive at this conclusion based only on his improper extrapolation from in vitro observations that are 30-40 years out of date to in vivo observations from poorly conducted, easily disputed studies, as well as his quick dismissal of only a few of the dozens and dozens of the recently published, highly respected studies that observed the anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids.

        My conclusion: it would be charitable to describe Dr. Reece’s claims as scurrilous. The bias is clear, and the reasons behind the bias come into focus when you consider what else Dr. Reece has done over the course of his questionable career.

      • WowFAD:

        Thank you for the careful reading and insightful comments.

        I have not had a chance to really sink my teeth into the paper, but it looks to me as though Dr Reece read the Zhang et al 2105 study on Chromothripsis and came up with a hypothesis which he then cobbled together a less than robust argument for. This is, as anyone who has taken a high-school science class knows, the opposite of how a scientific theory should be arrived at.

        Based on your comments, and my initial read through of the paper, I would have to agree with your conclusion.

        PS. Would you consider writing a guest post on Reliawire about your conclusions and Dr Reece’s background? As a follow-up to my initial post, I think it could help clarify things on the subject for a lot of people who might not read through the comments here.

      • The biggest distinction between scientists and people who work in areas fueled by ideology is that scientists look at the evidence, form a testable hypothesis, and devise a way to either verify or disprove that hypothesis. If you start with the answer you want and work your way backwards to the justification, that’s not science. That’s public policy. In my opinion, Dr. Reece was doing the latter.

        In my experience, people who hold certain “ideals” above all reproach make lousy researchers. Sometimes those ideals are flattering or comforting in some way. Maybe those ideals make you feel good or important. Maybe those ideals are shared and repeated by a lot of people. But none of that necessarily makes them objectively true. Once upon a time, everyone believed the earth was the center of the universe (the inherent narcissism is almost funny, retrospectively). Copernicus came up with a better explanatory model of how things are, despite popular belief, and was open to the possibility that popular belief was wrong.

        Dr. Reece holds the belief that cannabis is evil. In the 1980s, I’m sure a firm majority would have been quick to side with him. And I’m sure he still holds those beliefs for a variety of reasons that appeal to him, personally (although they might involve trees made of snakes). These days, he hasn’t had much luck convincing people that God gives people AIDS because of condoms, nor has he successfully convinced anyone that cancer and other genetic abnormalities are divine punishment for cannabis. So he’s trying a different tactic.

        After all, it’s the Information Age: how could he say that kind of stuff aloud without sounding completely insane? That’s why he’s “making science” the same way our lawmakers make policy. He’s excluding his *real* motives from the discussion (because they’re crazy). Instead, he’s cobbling together justifications for his assertions that *might* pass scientific muster which are, at the very least, consistent with his fundamentalist ideals. However, the fact that he’s working backwards from a *desired* conclusion is evident in what he either glossed over or omitted from his paper, entirely.

        Ideals held above all reproach preclude the possibility they might be wrong. Subsequently, anything inconsistent with those ideals can’t be true, either. That’s an epistemic spiderweb of ignorance and disbelief that spreads out in a person’s head, excluding anything/everything that challenges their worldview. It’s very difficult for people like that to learn anything new. It’s also very easy to manipulate people like that by appealing to their preconceived notions, but I’m getting off-topic.

        Science requires the humility to admit when a preconceived notion should be discarded, as well as the objectivity to recognize those conditions. I’d say Dr. Reece wholeheartedly lacks both humility and objectivity, which is a shame for him. In my experience, seeking out better explanations for how the world works is the best way to get to that incredible “mind blown” state. To me, THAT is certainly more enjoyable than stubbornly defending a dated/archaic point of view held irreproachable, despite all evidence to the contrary.

        For example, I grew up with “just say no” and never questioned the popular belief that “marijuana” was dangerous for most of my life. Honestly, I was in my third year of graduate school before I learned, in actuality, it’s impossible to overdose on cannabis, which surprised me. It was right about the same time someone I respected told me about the purported anti-tumor properties of cannabinoids. However, because of the decades-worth of drug war dialogue I’d been inundated with my entire life, I was extremely skeptical. But I didn’t want to unfairly dismiss the idea, so I dedicated some real time to look into it because, again, it’s important to be objective.

        In a very small, overgeneralized nutshell, this is how cancer works. When normal, healthy cell division occurs, the new cell gets bigger to take over for the old cell, and that old cell is supposed to undergo apoptosis (natural cell death) to make room for the new cell. However, when the part of our DNA responsible for encoding the process of mitosis is damaged, sometimes the old cell doesn’t undergo apoptosis like it’s supposed to: it sticks around, not dying. Worse, sometimes the old cell *keeps dividing* over and over again, producing more cells with the same damaged DNA telling them to keep dividing without apoptosis. This rampant, abnormal mitosis keeps going, forming a clump of abnormal cells — a cancerous tumor. And because this tumor is indeed comprised of YOUR cells, blood vessels form to support this out-of-control growth (angiogenesis). Worse yet, sometimes the tumor doesn’t stay contained. Parts break off and go floating through your blood stream, taking up residence in other parts of your body, forming tumors there as well. That is the worst thing cancer can do: metastasizing.

        Typical radiation treatments for cancer try to curtail tumor growth by gambling that the cancerous cells (by virtue of being old and abnormal) will die before healthy tissues are irreparably damaged by the radiation. That’s how chemotherapy works, and that’s why it’s slow and painful. Radiation therapy is a race to see who dies first: the cancer, or the patient. All too often, the patient “wins” that race.

        Here’s where my mind was blown. When I first started digging into the research, I learned cannabinoids encourage cancerous tumors to shrink. The cells that refuse to die remember they were supposed to and undergo apoptosis when their CB2 receptors are stimulated, which is amazing. New blood vessels aren’t formed to feed the tumor, which starves the cancer. Likewise, cannabinoids prevent metastasis by forcing the free-floating cancer cells to undergo apoptosis. Healthy tissue stays healthy, abnormal cells self-destruct. Hands-down, a better treatment option than bombarding a patient with radiation. It’s almost too good to be true, but the evidence from other westernized countries (Spain, Germany, Israel) just keeps mounting. They don’t have to contend with the DEA to do their research.

        No kidding, when I learned *this* is where the hottest oncology research is (when I learned that we’ve kept the potential cure for cancer illegal for decades), my mind was indeed blown out of my skull. Ever since, I’m surprised at the reluctance of our lawmakers to change the current policies. I’m shocked at how fervently federal agencies work to block clinical research. It’s also why I was dumbstruck by Dr. Reece’s assertions and was so desperate to read his paper. Cannabis as a carcinogen? Really? How does that work?

        Awe, Jeez. Here I am getting back on top of my soap box when all I originally intended to say is that I’m not even remotely a journalist and I shouldn’t write an article for you. When it comes to writing, I *clearly* have trouble keeping it short and sweet, so I don’t think I could write something readers would like. No kidding, I could ramble on like this forever. But I’m very flattered! And tempted. But again, page limits and I don’t get along.

      • That is pretty amazing about cannabinoids. I will have to look into that line of research. Once again I appreciate your thoughtful comments here.

        Do you have any suggestions fro links you can point me to of blogging people that follow this topic (cannabinoids for oncology), or books that would give an overview if there are any?

        Thanks for considering writing an article. It’s not for everyone, summarizing and condensing complex facts and multi-faceted concepts into a short post can be tough work. There is a craft to it that not many have mastered, including myself. I often find myself not choosing to write on a topic for fear I won’t be able to do it justice in a 1000 word post, less I mislead or fall into the click-bait article crowd.

      • Blogs, I cannot say. I do remember an interesting documentary from 2010 called “What if Cannabis Cured Cancer?” which is about 50 minutes long and can be found on youtube. There’s also the Journal of the American Medical Association (impact factor of 35.289) which just published the following, which I’m planning to read, tomorrow:

        Wilkie G, Sakr B, Rizack T. Medical Marijuana Use in Oncology: A Review. JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(5):670-675. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0155.

        Just looking at the bibliography, this may sum up the bulk of what I’ve seen in the last six years I’ve been paying attention to cannabis as a treatment for cancer. It was published this month, so this is about as current as you can get.

    • Wow Dr. Reece sounds like a f’ing lunatic.

  3. Information brought to proudly by the alcohol foundation

  4. Lunar idiocy. A work of fiction in the style of early 20th century anti-drug propaganda like “Addicted to Reefer: A Cheerleaders Tale of Woe” but with less data to back it up. [ Yes, I made up the title but hey, so did Dr.Reece… ]