Cannabinoids and psychotic symptoms: A potential role for a genetic variant in the P2X purinoceptor 7 (P2RX7) gene

Marco P. Boks, Yujie He, Chris D. Schubart, Willemijn van Gastel, Laurent Elkrief, Guillaume Huguet, Kristel van Eijk, Christiaan H. Vinkers, René S. Kahn, Tomás Paus, Patricia Conrod, Elly M. Hol, Lot D. de Witte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


To investigate the biological mechanisms underlying the higher risk for psychosis in those that use cannabis, we conducted a genome-wide environment-interaction study (GWEIS). In a sample of individuals without a psychiatric disorder (N = 1262), we analyzed the interactions between regular cannabis use and genotype with psychotic-like experiences (PLE) as outcome. PLE were measured using the Community Assessment of Psychic Experiences (CAPE). The sample was enriched for those at the extremes of both cannabis use and PLE to increase power. A single nucleotide polymorphism in the P2RX7 gene (rs7958311) was associated with risk for a high level of psychotic experiences in regular cannabis users (p = 1.10 x10-7) and in those with high levels of lifetime cannabis use (p = 4.5 × 10-6). This interaction was replicated in individuals with high levels of lifetime cannabis use in the IMAGEN cohort (N = 1217, p = 0.020). Functional relevance of P2RX7 in cannabis users was suggested by in vitro experiments on activated monocytes. Exposure of these cells to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD) reduced the immunological response of the P2X7 receptor, which was dependent on the identified genetic variant. P2RX7 variants have been implicated in psychiatric disorders before and the P2X7 receptor is involved in pathways relevant to psychosis, such as neurotransmission, synaptic plasticity and immune regulation. We conclude that P2RX7 plays a role in vulnerability to develop psychotic symptoms when using cannabis and point to a new pathway that can potentially be targeted by newly developed P2X7 antagonists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-581
Number of pages9
JournalBrain, behavior, and immunity
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • CBD
  • Cannabidiol
  • Cannabis
  • GWAS
  • Genetic risk
  • P2X7
  • Psychosis
  • Schizophrenia
  • THC

Cite this