We know that smoking is dangerous to our health. But that doesn’t stop us from smoking, right? Well, here’s something you don’t hear often. Did you know that scientists believe that schizophrenia and smoking are tightly linked? They are not sure why, though. In fact, a recent study published in Lancet Psychiatry states that people with schizophrenia smoke three times more in comparison to people in the general population.
The question in the minds of these scientists is this: could nicotine help control the disorder, or does it increase the risk of psychosis?
It’s often believed that people with schizophrenia take up smoking to reduce some of the distress they feel due to their condition. They would often use nicotine to manipulate their mental state in response to various environmental conditions, such as reducing stress and managing negative emotions. However, a new study shed some light on the negative effects of nicotine on psychosis, such as schizophrenia. Scientists from King’s College London stated that “It is possible that nicotine exposure, by increasing the release of dopamine, causes psychosis to develop.”
By running a statistical analyses of 61 past studies, the scientists found that 57% of people who were first diagnosed with psychosis were smokers and they found out that daily smokers were twice more likely to develop schizophrenia than non-smokers. The researchers also believe that in some cases the smoking came first before psychosis.
Given how nicotine affects the brain’s dopamine system, this is a possibility indeed. However, before you get too excited about a new discovery, Sir Robin Murray, one of the authors of the study and professor of psychiatric research at King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience has this to say, “We can’t say that we have proof that cigarette smoking causes schizophrenia. Indeed it is very difficult to point to any particular factor and say it causes schizophrenia. It is a bit like heart disease— there are a number of risk factors. You inherit some vulnerability and . . . are exposed to various things which increase the risk to your life.”
As of now, this is just a theory. More studies will probably be needed before we can draw any conclusions on how nicotine affects schizophrenia. One thing is clear though. People suffering from schizophrenia smoke cigarettes at excessive rates and that is not good for their health.