Cannabis use disorder and age at onset of psychosis—a study in first-episode patients

Benno G Schimmelmann, Philippe Conus, Sue M Cotton, Stephan Kupferschmid, Anne Karow, Frauke Schultze-Lutter, Patrick D McGorry, Martin Lambert
Schizophrenia Research 2011, 129 (1): 52-6

INTRODUCTION: Age at onset of psychosis (AAO) may be younger in patients with cannabis use disorders (CUD) compared to those without CUD (NCUD). Previous studies included CUD co-morbid with other substance use disorders (SUD), and many did not control for confounders.

METHODS: Controlling for relevant confounders, differences in AAO between patients with and without CUD excluding those with any other SUD were analyzed in a large representative file audit of 625 first-episode psychosis (FEP) patients (age 14 to 29years) admitted to the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

RESULTS: Three quarters of the 625 FEP patients had a CUD. Cannabis use started before psychosis onset in 87.6% of patients. AAO was not significantly different between CUD (without other SUD, n=201) and NCUD (n=157). However, AAO was younger in those with early CUD (starting age 14 or younger) compared to NCUD (F(1)=5.2; p=0.024; partial η(2)=0.026). Earlier age at onset of cannabis use predicted earlier age at onset of psychosis (β=-0.49, R(2)-change=0.25, p<0.001).

CONCLUSION: Only CUD starting age 14 or younger was associated with an earlier AAO at a small effect size. These findings suggest that CUD may exert an indirect effect on brain maturation resulting in earlier AAO potentially only in cannabis sensitive subjects.

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