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The association between cannabis abuse and subsequent schizophrenia: A Swedish national co-relative control study

Author(s): Giordano GN, Ohlsson H, Sundquist K, Sunquist J, Kendler K

Abstract

Background

Although cannabis abuse (CA) is known to be associated with schizophrenia, the causal nature of this association is unclear, with prodromal effects complicating its interpretation.

Method

From Swedish national registry databases, we used a co-relative case–control design with full-sibling, half-sibling and first-cousin comparisons, alongside a general Swedish population sample. Using ICD codes, 5456 individuals with an initial diagnosis of schizophrenia (2000–2010) were matched with five schizophrenia-free controls. We further identified first-cousin, half-sibling and full-sibling pairs discordant for CA and statistically extrapolated results for discordant monozygotic (MZ) twins.

Results

Within the general Swedish population, CA was strongly associated with later schizophrenia [odds ratio (OR) 10.44, 95% confidence interval (CI) 8.99–12.11]. This association was substantially attenuated both by increasing temporal delays between CA exposure and schizophrenia diagnosis and by controlling for increasing degrees of familial confounding. Extrapolated discordant MZ pairs suggested that fully controlling for confounding familial factors reduced the association between CA and later schizophrenia to more modest levels (ORs of approximately 3.3 and 1.6 with 3- and 7-year temporal delays respectively). Opiate, sedative, cocaine/stimulant and hallucinogen abuse were also strongly associated with subsequent schizophrenia in the general population. After controlling for familial confounding, only cocaine/stimulant exposure remained associated.

Conclusions

CA has an appreciable causal impact on future risk for schizophrenia. However, population-based estimates of cannabis–schizophrenia co-morbidity substantially overestimate their causal association. Predictions of the cases of schizophrenia that might be prevented by reduced cannabis consumption based on population associations are therefore likely to be considerably overestimated.

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