Groundbreaking research conducted at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychology suggests that smoking may be risk factor in the development of psychosis. This disturbing conclusion came after extensive analysis of 273,000 non-tobacco users as well as 15,000 tobacco users and their different rates of psychosis. Individuals with psychosis experience symptoms such as paranoia, delusions and hearing voices inside their head.
With Schizophrenia affecting 1 in 100 people, this new research could help in identifying major contributing factors as well as possible treatments for this mental illness.
One of the leading researchers of the study, and a psychosis expert himself, James MacCabe, said that “"While it's always hard to determine the direction of causality, our findings indicate that smoking should be taken seriously as a possible risk factor for developing psychosis.” MacCabe admitted that tobacco only represented one of many risk factors. Others include genetics, lifestyle, diet as well as other influences.
People suffering from Schizophrenia typically experience symptoms such as psychotic experiences and disruptions in perception and thinking. This psychiatric disorder usually begins to reveal itself in early adulthood. Until this research, many doctors had prescribed smoking on a self-medication basis, encouraging their patients with psychosis to smoke tobacco to counteract the symptoms of Schizophrenia and for the side effects of treatment.
From the research conducted at King’s College, scientists studied individuals experiencing their first episodes of psychosis along with their smoking rates. They discovered that 57% of those patients were smokers. This leads to the conclusion that people experiencing their first episode of psychosis were also found to be three times more likely to smoke than the control groups.
After analyzing the results, Robin Murray, who worked with MacCabe on the research, suggests that one possible explanation for the causal link of psychosis and smoking may be activity of the brain’s dopamine system. Murray explains that because an excess of dopamine largely causes psychosis, it raises a red flag that nicotine exposure increases dopamine levels. Perhaps these increased levels caused by smoking can contribute to the development of psychosis, though further research will be needed to confirm that hypothesis.