Is Smoking to Blame For an Increase in Schizophrenia Cases?

It’s hardly hard hitting news that smoking being bad for you (and the people who live with you). It causes asthma, heart disease, and ultimately, lung cancer. Now, a new study out of King’s College is claiming that smoking is attacking a part of your body that you wouldn’t expect.

There has always been a link drawn between smoking and psychosis- but it has never been fully explored until now. Instead, scientists have looked at why people with mental illness are more prone to smoking. This is any combination of boredom, self medication, or combating other addictions. But now, we’re turning the tables. Researchers at King’s College think that they’d furthered what make schizophrenia so prevalent in smokers. Their data found that 57% of the individuals surveyed were smokers when they showed their first sign of psychosis.

smoking schizophrenia link

“People with a first episode of psychosis were three times more likely to be smokers than those in the control groups. The researchers also found that daily smokers developed psychotic illness around a year earlier than non-smokers,”

…the study states. But it can’t be simply nicotine that’s causing this. The culprit may lie in a chemical that’s already naturally in our brains.

Dopamine is a chemical signal in your brain that passes information from one neuron to another. Its main job is to control the brain’s reward and pleasure sections. It also works with our emotional responses to situations, as well as motivating us to seek reward for our actions. Low dopamine levels are often associated with people more susceptible to addiction. Other research suggests that dopamine deficiency could be a large contributing factor in causing Parkinson’s Disease. Smoking increases the dopamine production in the brain. Large quantities of dopamine are, thus far, the best biological explanation to what causes schizophrenia. Putting the two together looks like an easy jump to make.

“Excess dopamine is the best biological explanation we have for psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia,” says Sir Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research at King’s College. “It is possible that nicotine exposure, by increasing the release of dopamine, causes psychosis to develop.” The study makes it clear to say that smoking is not what causes schizophrenia, but only increases the risk of developing it. Still, the risk is a big one.

smoking schizophrenia link

This study does have its flaws. Although there’s are some findings to back up the claim, it’s hard to clearly point to smoking as a major factor in triggering schizophrenia. Researchers were unable to filter out the effects of other stimulants, such as marijuana and other drugs that could also be contributing to the prevalence of psychosis. They also didn’t take into consideration alcohol or caffeine consumption of those surveyed. Yet, we can only go up from here in finding more connections.

“Longer-term studies are required to investigate the relationship between daily smoking, sporadic smoking, nicotine dependence and the development of psychotic disorders,” Dr. Sameer Jauhar, another researcher points out. But one thing is for certain, smoking isn’t doing you any favors in the mean time. If you need help quitting, contact the North American Quitline Consortium, or find the quitline specific to your state.

For more Head & Heart features, check out our articles here.

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