Electronic Cigarettes and Schizophrenia

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An new study has revealed that electronic cigarettes may help smokers with schizophrenia reduce or quit smoking without exacerbating psychosis the way other prescribed treatments do.  The study comes from a University of Catania (Italy) group, including Dr. Riccardo Polosa — the professor working to verify that e-cigs are successful smoking cessation aids.

Polosa’s current and previous work shows that, among individuals unwilling to quit smoking, electronic cigarettes reduce use of tobacco cigarettes by half for around 50% of participants at 6 months.  Another quarter tend to quit smoking entirely within that time.  These results came from smokers unwilling to quit and without any assistance or support therapy.  This puts the roughly 90% failure rate of accepted cessation methods to shame.  Promising is an understatement.

Read the study here.

This study from Polosa and others focused specifically on the effects of smoking reduction and cessation with electronic cigarettes when subjects have schizophrenia.  This seems like an oddly specific focus area for a study.  With only 14 participants, some individuals may be quick to brush the study aside as too small.  With context however, the study shines.

Currently, the most successful drug treatments for smoking and nicotine dependence come with a laundry list of side effects.  These can include depression, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, rage, suicide, seizures, and more.  In general, neurological issues like epilepsy and psychosis can be exacerbated by these drugs and the results can be terrifying.  That makes this study far more interesting in context.  A successful quitting and harm reduction method without side effects in individuals with schizophrenia bodes really well for the rest of the population.

The Results

All 14 participants were chronic schizophrenic in-patients that smoked 20 or more factory-made cigarettes a day for the last 10 years.  Schizophrenic smokers are hardly uncommon.  A surprising 80% of schizophrenics smoke (compared to a roughly 20% of the general population).  The reasoning often links to nicotine’s ability to soothe, stimulate, and assist neural pathways.

At the one year mark from the beginning of the study, 7 (half) participants had cut from a median number of 30 cigarettes per day to a median of 15 per day.  Two individuals in the study reported complete abstinence from conventional cigarettes.  During the course of the study, a few participants (2 – 4 out of the 14) reported nausea, throat irritation, headache, or dry cough as side effects, but these diminished dramatically at the 24-week mark.

Most importantly, neither positive or negative symptoms of schizophrenia increased following smoking reduction or cessation using electronic cigarettes.  This means use of electronic cigarettes as a harm mitigation or cessation method most likely comes without the psychological effects common to other (currently approved) therapies.

Read our rundown of electronic cigarette research here.

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