Could Smoking Boost Risk of Schizophrenia?

By May Wilkerson 07/20/15

Habitual smokers are at least twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers, according to researchers.

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Need yet another reason to kick the habit? Cigarette smoking may boost your risk of developing schizophrenia, according to a new study in The Lancet Psychiatry. Though researchers have not arrived at any conclusions, they suspect the association may be due to the way nicotine can affect the brain.

The link between schizophrenia and smoking has been known for a while. But up until now, most researchers believed it was due to people with schizophrenia self-medicating their symptoms with smoking.

But this new study, from King’s College London, examined the association further and found that smoking may actually boost a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.

They found that habitual smokers were at least twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers. Smokers also tended to develop symptoms of the condition a year earlier than those who didn’t smoke.

The findings don’t prove causation, but scientists believe nicotine may play a role, since it impacts the brain’s reward system. “Excess dopamine is the best biological explanation we have for psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia,” said study author Sir Robin Murray. “It is possible that nicotine exposure, by increasing the release of dopamine, causes psychosis to develop.”

However, past research has also found that smoking is linked to a decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, a condition caused by too little dopamine in the brain. So the effects of smoking on the brain are complex and demand further study before any conclusions are made, say scientists.

In the meantime, it never hurts to quit.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.