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First episode psychosis (FEP) patients who use cannabis experience more frequent psychotic and euphoric intoxication experiences compared to controls. It is not clear whether this is consequent to patients being more vulnerable to the effects of cannabis use or to their heavier pattern of use. We aimed to determine whether extent of use predicted psychotic-like and euphoric intoxication experiences in patients and controls and whether this differs between groups.
We analysed data on patients who had ever used cannabis (n = 655) and controls who had ever used cannabis (n = 654) across 15 sites from six countries in the EU-GEI study (2010–2015). We used multiple regression to model predictors of cannabis-induced experiences and to determine if there was an interaction between caseness and extent of use.
Caseness, frequency of cannabis use and money spent on cannabis predicted psychotic-like and euphoric experiences (p ⩽ 0.001). For psychotic-like experiences (PEs) there was a significant interaction for caseness × frequency of use (p < 0.001) and caseness × money spent on cannabis (p = 0.001) such that FEP patients had increased experiences at increased levels of use compared to controls. There was no significant interaction for euphoric experiences (p > 0.5).
FEP patients are particularly sensitive to increased psychotic-like, but not euphoric experiences, at higher levels of cannabis use compared to controls. This suggests a specific psychotomimetic response in FEP patients related to heavy cannabis use. Clinicians should enquire regarding cannabis related PEs and advise that lower levels of cannabis use are associated with less frequent PEs.
Daily use of high-potency cannabis has been reported to carry a high risk for developing a psychotic disorder. However, the evidence is mixed on whether any pattern of cannabis use is associated with a particular symptomatology in first-episode psychosis (FEP) patients.
We analysed data from 901 FEP patients and 1235 controls recruited across six countries, as part of the European Network of National Schizophrenia Networks Studying Gene-Environment Interactions (EU-GEI) study. We used item response modelling to estimate two bifactor models, which included general and specific dimensions of psychotic symptoms in patients and psychotic experiences in controls. The associations between these dimensions and cannabis use were evaluated using linear mixed-effects models analyses.
In patients, there was a linear relationship between the positive symptom dimension and the extent of lifetime exposure to cannabis, with daily users of high-potency cannabis having the highest score (B = 0.35; 95% CI 0.14–0.56). Moreover, negative symptoms were more common among patients who never used cannabis compared with those with any pattern of use (B = −0.22; 95% CI −0.37 to −0.07). In controls, psychotic experiences were associated with current use of cannabis but not with the extent of lifetime use. Neither patients nor controls presented differences in depressive dimension related to cannabis use.
Our findings provide the first large-scale evidence that FEP patients with a history of daily use of high-potency cannabis present with more positive and less negative symptoms, compared with those who never used cannabis or used low-potency types.
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