[Cannabis and schizophrenia: demographic and clinical correlates]

A Dervaux, X Laqueille, M-C Bourdel, M-H Leborgne, J-P Olié, H Lôo, M-O Krebs
L'Encéphale 2003, 29 (1): 11-7

UNLABELLED: The high prevalence of psychoactive substance abuse or dependence among schizophrenic patients has now been well established. Mueser et al. stressed the need to assess the abuse of specific classes of substances and analyse the data accordingly. The objective of this study was to compare the socio-demographic correlates and the clinical features in a group of schizophrenic patients with a lifetime cannabis abuse or dependence according to the DSM III-R with a group of schizophrenic patients who had never presented any abuse or dependence.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: The study included 124 subjects with diagnoses of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorders according to the DSM III-R. Inclusion criteria for participation in the study were age 18 years or older and willingness to provide consent to participate in the study. The inpatients were evaluated when their condition was stabilised. Assessment tools were the psychoactive substance use disorder section of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS), the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale (GAF). Subjects with cannabis abuse or dependence during their lifetime were compared with subjects without abuse or dependence, using chi(2) test for categorical variables and analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) for quantitative variables.

RESULTS: Forty-nine subjects (42,6%) presented lifetime abuse or dependence on one or more substances. Since 19 patients with alcohol, stimulant, sedative or opiate abuse or dependence were excluded, the study finally included 96 subjects including a first group of schizophrenic patients with cannabis abuse (n=6) or dependence (n=24) and a second group without any psychoactive substance abuse (n=66). Thirteen (11.3%) patients presented cannabis abuse or dependence within the 6 months prior to the assessment. The mean SD age of onset of cannabis abuse or dependence was 19.6 +/- 3.0 years. Cannabis abuse/dependence preceded the first psychiatric treatment in 70% of the subjects (n=21). 83.3% of the schizophrenic patients with cannabis abuse or dependence were male (n=25) compared to 62.1% in the group without substance abuse (n=41) (chi(2)=4.32, df=1, p=0.04). Schizophrenic patients with cannabis abuse were significantly younger (mean age: 28.9 +/- 6.3 vs 37.0 +/- 12.7, ANCOVA, F=7.2, df=1,96 p=0.009). There was no significant difference between the two groups for marital status, (chi(2)=5.34, df=2, p=0.07), level of education, (chi(2)=0.93, df=2, p=0.62) professional status, (chi(2)=8.7, df=5, p=0.11), on PANSS total score (ANCOVA, F=0.42, df=1,93, p=0.52), GAF score (ANCOVA, F=0.06, df=1,92, p=0.80), mean number of hospitalizations (ANCOVA, F=3.25, df=1,85, p=0.08), mean age of first psychiatric contact (ANCOVA, F=0.74, df=1,93, p=0.39), and neuroleptic dosages (ANCOVA, F=0.03, df=1,90, p=0.87). In contrast, the total duration of hospitalization was significantly longer for the group with cannabis abuse. Patients with cannabis abuse were more likely to have an history of suicide attempts than subjects without substance abuse (chi(2)=11.52, df=1, p=0.0007).

DISCUSSION: The prevalence rates for substance abuse and the socio-demographic characteristics of the population of our study are consistent with findings of previous studies. Male gender and age were significantly related to history of cannabis abuse or dependence. Cannabis abuse frequently preceded the onset of psychiatric treatment. However, both schizophrenia and substance abuse tend to develop gradually, with no clear demarcation for the onset of schizophrenia. The absence of any link between the scores for the subscales of the PANSS and cannabis abuse, both in our study and in some retrospective previous studies, is not suggestive of cannabis abuse as a self-medication of positive or negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Self-medication could concern other symptoms, such as cognitive deficits. In addition, the hypothesis of self-medication has especially been suggested in cocaine abuse or dependence. Some limitations to this study can be discussed. First, although the recruitment was systematic and done in a public mental health service, the patients of our study are not necessarily representative of all schizophrenic patients. Secondly, as in any retrospective study, the prevalence of lifetime substance abuse may have been under-estimated. Urinary toxicology tests may have been able to improve the sensitivity of the diagnosis of recent substance abuse, but structured interviews are more appropriate for the diagnosis of lifetime substance abuse in schizophrenic patients than urinary toxicology tests.

CONCLUSION: The socio-demographic characteristics of cannabis abuse or dependence in schizophrenia are similar to those found in general population. Cannabis using schizophrenic patients were more likely to be younger and male than non users. The duration of hospitalization was significantly longer for the group with cannabis abuse. Prevalence of suicide attempts in schizophrenia is closely correlated to cannabis abuse.

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