A team of researchers at King’s College London have found that smokers are more likely to develop the psychological disorder of schizophrenia, and are more likely to develop it at a younger age.
They investigated 61 separate studies, which looked at the data of over 14,000 smokers and over 273,000 non-smokers, with their findings indicating that daily smokers were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers. On average, smokers also developed schizophrenia a year earlier than non-smokers who suffered from schizophrenia, and the findings also revealed that 57% of people with psychosis were already smokers when they had their first psychotic episode.
The results suggest that the main cause may be nicotine, one of the main ingredients of cigarettes, which over time acts in altering the brain. There has also been a long-time belief that patients with schizophrenia are more likely to smoke as they act as a form of self-medication, helping to ease the presence of hallucinations or voices.
The smoking is therefore not simply a case of self-medication, but, as there is a higher rate of smoking before the diagnosis of schizophrenia, is seen to be a link to the cause of schizophrenia. Normally, it affects about 1 in 100 people, though this is increased to 2 in 100 by smoking. Though it has been remarked that the case for smoking potentially increasing the risk of schizophrenia has a ‘pretty strong case’, more long-term studies will be needed in order to fully understand the link between the two.
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