An Examination of Risk Factors for Tobacco and Cannabis Smoke Exposure in Adolescents

Abstract: "Evolving patterns of nicotine and cannabis use by adolescents require new tools to understand the changing epidemiology of these substances. Here we describe the use of a novel epigenetic biomarker sensitive to both tobacco and cannabis smoke in a longitudinal sample of high-risk adolescents. We examine risk factors for positivity for this epigenetic biomarker in comparison to positivity for conventional serum biomarkers of nicotine and cannabis use. Method: Eastern Iowa 10th graders who had a friend or family member who smoked were eligible to participate in a longitudinal study over 10-12th grades. Subjects provided self-report data on nicotine, tobacco, and cannabis use patterns as well as blood samples that were used for serum cotinine and THC assays. DNA was prepared for analysis of methylation at the CpG cg05575921, a sensitive indicator of smoke exposure. Relationships between positivity for each these biomarkers and a variety of risk factors, including demographics, family and peer relationships, psychopathology, willingness to smoke, and perceptions of typical cigarette and cannabis users, were examined at the 10th (n = 442), 11th (n = 376), and 12th (n = 366) grade timepoints. Results: A increasing proportion of subjects were positive for cotinine (5-16%), THC (3-10%), and cg05575921 methylation (5-7%) across timepoints, with some overlap. Self-reported combusted tobacco and cannabis use was strongly correlated with all biomarkers, whereas cg05575921 methylation was not correlated with reported e-cigarette use. Dual users, defined as those positive for nicotine and THC in the 12th grade showed the greatest cumulative smoke exposure, indicated by cg05575921 methylation. Subjects reported more positive attitudes toward cannabis users than cigarette smokers, and willingness to smoke and positive perceptions of tobacco and cannabis smokers were significant risk factors for biomarker positivity across timepoints. Conclusion: We conclude that measurement of cg05575921 methylation in adolescents is a useful tool in detecting tobacco smoking in adolescents, and may be a novel tool for the detection of cannabis smoking and cannabis and tobacco co-use, though non-combusted forms of nicotine use do not appear to be detectable by this method".