Smoking cigarettes linked to schizophrenia

10 July 2015

Smoking

Researchers have found a link between smoking and the development of schizophrenia which needs to be further investigated.

It is already known that those living with schizophrenia are more likely to smoke because they use cigarettes as a form of self-medication to ease the symptoms of the condition.

But a study, carried out by a team at King’s College London and published in the Lancet Psychiatry, suggests nicotine in cigarette smoke may be altering the levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which can play a role in causing psychosis.

The team analysed data involving 14,555 smokers and 273,162 non-smokers and found:

  • 57 percent of people with psychosis were already smokers when they had their first psychotic episode
  • People who smoked daily were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers
  • Smokers developed schizophrenia a year earlier than non-smokers on average

It is thought that if there is a higher rate of smoking before schizophrenia is diagnosed, then smoking is not simply a form of self-medication.

Dr James MacCabe, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's, said: "It's very difficult to establish causation [with this style of study], what we're hoping that this does is really open our eyes to the possibility that tobacco could be a causative agent in psychosis, and we hope this will then lead to other research and clinical trials that would help to provide firmer evidence."

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