Latimer: Smoking’s link to schizophrenia

More to add to the already massive amount of evidence that smoking is bad for your health.

Paul LatimerWe all know smoking is bad for our health.

As time and research move forward, we hear more and more reasons we should abstain from this bad habit.

Smoking is harmful—if you do it long enough, chances are good you’ll die as a result.

It has also long been known that there seems to be a link between smoking and psychiatric illness. At least, rates of smoking are quite a bit higher in populations with co-existing mental disorders.

Schizophrenia, in particular, has some alarming statistics when it comes to tobacco use. Approximately 70 per cent of people with schizophrenia also smoke.

Of course this is concerning because, along with the higher rate of use, comes a higher risk of mortality from smoking related illness.

What we haven’t yet fully figured out is why smoking is so prevalent among those with schizophrenia.

Some studies have shown that smoking could have a positive effect on some of the cognitive symptoms in schizophrenia.

It is thought that many people use cigarettes in part to self-medicate even if they’re not conscious of it. Symptoms can get worse when the person tries to quit smoking.

It’s unclear exactly how tobacco improves psychiatric symptoms, but there are some theories.

We do know, for example, that nicotine stimulates the release of a number of neurotransmitters in the body—some of which may be the same ones affected by psychiatric medication.

The body also has nicotine specific receptors in many areas and there has been quite a bit of research into their locations and functions—there is still more to learn.

Recent evidence has also shown that not only is it more common for those with schizophrenia to smoke, it’s also more common for smokers to develop schizophrenia.

Though more research is needed on this topic, we are starting to believe there could be a causal relationship in that direction.

One study of more than 14,000 adolescents found smokers had two times the risk of subsequently developing schizophrenia than non-smokers. Other studies have also noted smoking is associated with an increased risk of later psychotic experiences.

Smoking more heavily seems to increase the risk compared to light smoking and quitting also lowers the risk.

Not only that, but other studies have found some association between a mother smoking during pregnancy and increased risk of schizophrenia in her offspring. We already knew prenatal smoking puts babies at risk of various health consequences, but this is one more potentially negative outcome with a lifelong impact.

So we can add all of this to the already massive amount of evidence that smoking is bad for your health.

If you are a smoker and want to quit, speak with your doctor. There are different programs available and sometimes a little support can go a long way toward reaching your goal.