Smoking is pretty much never seen in a positive light by doctors. It leads to the development of lung cancer, or respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it ages you and exposes your loved ones to dangerous second hand smoke.
Climate scientists have their own bone to pick with smokers, blaming them for contributing to the current, already alarming and quickly worsening, levels of air pollution. Especially in China.
And now, you can add psychiatrists to the list of people who have smoking to blame for a serious, contemporary issue. A new study conducted by British researchers has revealed that cigarettes and other tobacco products may be triggering various mental illnesses, among which schizophrenia is an undeniable stand out.
The experts believe that nicotine interacts with the human brain and changes the way it responds to pleasure and reward. This in turn can easily cause mental illnesses to develop.
This is not the first time that the medical community has linked smoking to mental illness. Many previous studies have found that patients suffering from a psychotic mental illness are very likely to be smokers. The difference here is that previous studies have reasoned that these patients take on smoking in order to deal with their conditions – find some form of relief.
But the new study, published in the medical journal Lancet Psychiatry, has found that smoking is most likely one of the factors that contribute to the development of psychotic mental illnesses. Other main factors include genetic markers and environmental influences.
James MacCabe, researcher from King’s College London, gave a statement admitting that this kind of project is challenging as it’s hard to establish the direction of causality, the results of the tests conducted by him and his colleagues indicate that smoking is a serious risk factor of developing mental disorders and should not be treated lightly or labeled a consequence of the disorder.
For their study, the team from King’s College London looked at data collected from 61 observational studies. They ended up examining the cases of 15.000 tobacco smokers and 273.000 non-smokers.
Their analysis showed that 57 percent (57%) of patients treated for psychosis for the first time turned out to be smokers. On top of this, those suffering from severe forms were three (3) times more likely to be smokers than those with mild forms.
Another finding worth mentioning is that, on average, those who smoke on a daily basis became mentally ill about a year before non-smokers.
Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research over at King’s College Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), gave a statement on his own offering an explanation: “Excess dopamine is the best biological explanation we have for psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia. It is possible that nicotine exposure, by increasing the release of dopamine, causes psychosis to develop”.
A scientifically proven connection has already been found between psychosis development in genetically vulnerable individuals and use of cannabis.
Sameer Jauhar, researcher from King’s College London, gave a statement pointing out that long0term studiers are required in order to further understand the link between smoking and psychotic disorders. He also mentioned that whether the individual is a daily smoker, a sporadic smoker or a nicotine addict may also make a difference.
But he insisted that the current findings are powerful enough to justify the implementation of more cessation programs for this group of people.
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