van der Meer FJ, Velthorst E
Psychol Med 2015 Feb;
Prospective studies on the relationship between course of cannabis use and clinical outcome in patients with non-affective psychotic disorders are inconclusive. The current study examined whether (1) persistent, recently started, discontinued and non-cannabis-using patients with a psychotic disorder differed with regard to illness outcome at 3-year follow-up, and (2) whether timing of cannabis discontinuation was associated with course of clinical outcome.
This 3-year follow-up study was part of a multi-center study in the Netherlands and Belgium (Genetic Risk and Outcome of Psychosis; GROUP). We used mixed-model analyses to investigate the association between pattern of cannabis use and symptoms, global functioning and psychotic relapse.
In our sample of 678 patients, we found persistent users to have more positive and general symptoms, worse global functioning and more psychotic relapses compared with non-users and discontinued users [Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) positive, p < 0.001; PANSS general, p < 0.001; Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) symptoms, p = 0.017; GAF disability, p < 0.001; relapses, p = 0.038]. Patients who started using cannabis after study onset were characterized by worse functioning at baseline and showed an increase in general symptoms (including depression and anxiety) at the 3-year follow-up (p = 0.005). Timing of cannabis discontinuation was not associated with clinical outcome.
These findings suggest that cannabis use in patients with a psychotic disorder has a long-lasting negative effect on illness outcome, particularly when persistent. Treatment should focus on discouraging cannabis use.