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Parental Marijuana Use Linked to Heroin Addiction in Offspring

Update Date: Jan 22, 2014 01:52 PM EST

Smoking marijuana in your teens can turn your kids into heroin addicts. New research suggests that people who smoked marijuana as adolescents are more likely to have kids with drug addiction and compulsive behavior.

Scientists discovered that exposing adolescent rats to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can lead to molecular and behavioral changes in the next generation of offspring.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that male offspring showed stronger motivation to self-administer heroin during their adulthood and molecular changes in the glutamatergic system, which is the most important excitatory pathway for neurotransmission in the brain. Previous studies have linked abnormalities in the glutamate pathway to disturbances in goal-directed behavior and habit formation.

"Our study emphasizes that cannabis [marijuana] affects not just those exposed, but has adverse affects on future generations," senior author Yasmin Hurd, PhD, and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a news release. "Finding increased vulnerability to drug addiction and compulsive behavior in generations not directly exposed is an important consideration for legislators considering legalizing marijuana."

Researchers gave adolescent male rats 1.5 mg/kg of THC, similar to about one joint in human use. Researchers explained that none of the rats had been exposed to THC before. However, their parents were exposed to THC as teens and then mated later in life. Researchers found tat THC-exposed offspring worked harder to self-administer heroin by pressing a lever multiple times to get heroin infusion.

Researchers said the latest study highlights the possibility of adverse effects in future generations.

"What this opens up are many questions regarding the epigenetic mechanisms that mediate cross-generational brain effects," said Hurd.

The findings are published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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