Tobacco and schizophrenia

An interesting study about the ties between smoking and schizophrenia.

Studies have shown for years that a really large percentage of people with diagnosed mental illnesses are smokers. According to one study, as many as 90 percent of schizophrenics are cigarette smokers. There may be a real tangible reason for that — that the nicotine really might be providing some relief from their symptoms.

A recent study in Nature Medicine suggests that nicotine is a form of self-medication and perhaps can calm some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

From this Raw Story article:

“An international team of scientists says it may be able to explain why so many schizophrenics are heavy smokers — the addictive nicotine in cigarettes is boosting an area of their brains that becomes sluggish due to their illness. The researchers also suggest a particular genetic mutation has been found to cause that sluggish activity, which can occur in other mental conditions as well. A study in Nature Medicine says the findings may guide future drug developments.

Read: Antibodies Linked to Schizophrenia Onset

The root of their experiment was something called hypofrontality, which is decreased activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex that leads to cognitive issues like troubles with memory and decision-making. By studying mice, the scientists from Institut Pasteur in Paris and from the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that the CHRNA5 genetic mutation, previously linked to a greater risk of schizophrenia, is also linked to that decreased function in the frontal lobe, the University of Colorado said in a statement. They also say nicotine reverses this problem, at least in the mice, because the addictive chemical acts on “receptors in regions of the brain key to healthy cognitive function.

The benefits of the findings extend beyond just schizophrenia — hypofrontality is an issue in other mental health issues like addiction and bipolar disorder.

“Basically the nicotine is compensating for a genetically determined impairment,” Jerry Stitzel, a researcher from Boulder said in his university’s statement.”

So, it’s possible that nicotine, as bad as it is for regular smokers, might actually have some benefits for the severely mentally ill. More research is needed.