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Observational studies have found associations between smoking and both poorer cognitive ability and lower educational attainment; however, evaluating causality is challenging. We used two complementary methods to explore this.
We conducted observational analyses of up to 12 004 participants in a cohort study (Study One) and Mendelian randomisation (MR) analyses using summary and cohort data (Study Two). Outcome measures were cognitive ability at age 15 and educational attainment at age 16 (Study One), and educational attainment and fluid intelligence (Study Two).
Study One: heaviness of smoking at age 15 was associated with lower cognitive ability at age 15 and lower educational attainment at age 16. Adjustment for potential confounders partially attenuated findings (e.g. fully adjusted cognitive ability β −0.736, 95% CI −1.238 to −0.233, p = 0.004; fully adjusted educational attainment β −1.254, 95% CI −1.597 to −0.911, p < 0.001). Study Two: MR indicated that both smoking initiation and lifetime smoking predict lower educational attainment (e.g. smoking initiation to educational attainment inverse-variance weighted MR β −0.197, 95% CI −0.223 to −0.171, p = 1.78 × 10−49). Educational attainment results were robust to sensitivity analyses, while analyses of general cognitive ability were less so.
We find some evidence of a causal effect of smoking on lower educational attainment, but not cognitive ability. Triangulation of evidence across observational and MR methods is a strength, but the genetic variants associated with smoking initiation may be pleiotropic, suggesting caution in interpreting these results. The nature of this pleiotropy warrants further study.
It is not clear to what extent associations between schizophrenia, cannabis use and cigarette use are due to a shared genetic etiology. We, therefore, examined whether schizophrenia genetic risk associates with longitudinal patterns of cigarette and cannabis use in adolescence and mediating pathways for any association to inform potential reduction strategies.
Associations between schizophrenia polygenic scores and longitudinal latent classes of cigarette and cannabis use from ages 14 to 19 years were investigated in up to 3925 individuals in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Mediation models were estimated to assess the potential mediating effects of a range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral phenotypes.
The schizophrenia polygenic score, based on single nucleotide polymorphisms meeting a training-set p threshold of 0.05, was associated with late-onset cannabis use (OR = 1.23; 95% CI = 1.08,1.41), but not with cigarette or early-onset cannabis use classes. This association was not mediated through lower IQ, victimization, emotional difficulties, antisocial behavior, impulsivity, or poorer social relationships during childhood. Sensitivity analyses adjusting for genetic liability to cannabis or cigarette use, using polygenic scores excluding the CHRNA5-A3-B4 gene cluster, or basing scores on a 0.5 training-set p threshold, provided results consistent with our main analyses.
Our study provides evidence that genetic risk for schizophrenia is associated with patterns of cannabis use during adolescence. Investigation of pathways other than the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral phenotypes examined here is required to identify modifiable targets to reduce the public health burden of cannabis use in the population.
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