01 March 2012

Dagga tied to more trouble with psychosis recovery

People who suffer an episode of psychotic symptoms may want to steer clear of dagga, a new study suggests.


People who suffer an episode of psychotic symptoms may want to steer clear of dagga, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among people who had a psychotic break, those who continued to smoke dagga tended to have certain problems in recovery.

The effects were fairly small, and seemed to be limited to social life and financial independence – rather than mental health symptoms. But researchers say the findings support the conventional wisdom that people who've ever suffered from psychosis should avoid dagga smoking.

Dagga is not helping

"I would advise patients who've suffered from a psychosis and still use dagga to stop using it," said lead researcher Dr Gunnar Faber, of Yulius Mental Health Institute in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

"The message is clear that dagga is not helping people with a history of psychosis," he told Reuters Health in an email.

Studies have linked heavy dagga use to a higher-than-normal risk of having a first episode of psychosis – which usually features hallucinations and delusions.

But it hasn't been clear whether people who continue using dagga after a psychotic break have a tougher time recovering.

A good chance of clinical recovery

So for the new study, researchers looked at 124 people who had been part of a clinical trial testing the effects of longer-term treatment with antipsychotic medication. All had gone on treatment after a first-time episode of psychotic symptoms.

As part of that trial, the patients were asked about any dagga use. Overall, 21% continued smoking dagga during the two-year study and 35% had used the drug before.

By the end of the trial, 53% of study participants had seen their psychotic symptoms go away. And dagga users were just as likely as non-users to recover. They also had as good a chance of "clinical recovery" – which meant their symptoms were gone and their daily functioning was back to normal, or close to it.

About one-fifth of all patients had a clinical recovery, according to findings published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Dagga smoking keeps you from going out

Still, dagga users did show an increased risk of certain "social" problems – scoring lower on questionnaires gauging financial independence and social activities.

"In real life," Faber said, "this could mean that continuing cannabis use has a detrimental effect on social functioning." He noted, though, that any effects would vary from one user to another.

And the findings don't necessarily mean that dagga itself caused the social problems.

According to Faber, it's possible that continued dagga smoking keeps some users from working or going out. On the other hand, less work and less play may feed people's dagga use. Or some other factor altogether could explain the connection.

Still, the bottom line is that it's best for people being treated for psychosis to avoid smoking dagga, according to Faber.

He also pointed out that few dagga users in this study used the drug heavily, which may help explain why the habit did not seem to have strong effects on recovery.

(Amy Norton, Reuters Health, March 2012) 

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