Age at Initiation of Cannabis Use Predicts Age at Onset of Psychosis: The 7- to 8-Year Trend

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Abstract

We investigated the existence of a temporal association between age at initiation of cannabis use and age at onset of psychotic illness in 997 participants from the 2010 Survey of High Impact Psychosis (SHIP) in Australia. We tested for group differences in age at onset of psychotic illness and in the duration of premorbid exposure to cannabis (DPEC). Analyses were repeated in subgroups of participants with a schizophrenia-spectrum disorder (SSD), a diagnosis of lifetime cannabis dependence (LCD), and a comorbid SSD/LCD diagnosis. The association between age at initiation of cannabis use and age at onset of psychotic illness was linear and significant, F(11, 984) = 13.77, P < .001, even after adjusting for confounders. The effect of age at initiation of cannabis use on DPEC was not significant (mean duration of 7.8 years), and this effect was similar in participants with a SSD, LCD, and comorbid SSD/ LCD diagnosis although a shift toward shorter premorbid exposure to cannabis was noted in the SSD/LCD subgroup (mean duration of 7.19 years for SSD/LCD). A temporal direct relationship between age at initiation of cannabis use and age at onset of psychotic illness was detected with a premorbid exposure to cannabis trend of 7–8 years, modifiable by higher severity of premorbid cannabis use and a diagnosis of SSD. Cannabis may exert a cumulative toxic effect on individuals on the pathway to developing psychosis, the manifestation of which is delayed for approximately 7–8 years, regardless of age at which cannabis use was initiated.

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