April 14, 2020 (Toronto) — It has been long been known that cannabis users develop psychosis more often than non-users, but what is still not fully clear is whether cannabis actually causes psychosis and, if so, who is most at risk. A new study published in Translational Psychiatry by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and King’s College London helps shed light on both questions. The research shows that while cannabis users had higher rates of psychotic experiences than non-users across the board, the difference was especially pronounced among those with high genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.
“These results are significant because they’re the first evidence we’ve seen that people genetically prone to psychosis might be disproportionately affected by cannabis,” said lead author Dr. Michael Wainberg, Scientist the Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics at CAMH. “And because genetic risk scoring is still in its early days, the true influence of genetics on the cannabis-psychosis relationship may be even greater than what we found here.”
Using data from the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database containing participants’ in-depth genetic and health information, the authors analyzed the relationship between genetics, cannabis use and psychotic experiences across more than 100,000 people. Each person reported their frequency of past cannabis use, and whether they had ever had various types of psychotic experiences, such as auditory or visual hallucinations. The researchers also scored each person’s genetic risk for schizophrenia, by looking at which of their DNA mutations were more common among schizophrenia patients than among the general population.