Two ideas, one gut-wrenching disease

August 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm (psychology, research, science) (, , , , )

I stumbled into working with people with schizophrenia in 2007, and it was one of the roughest years of my life.  Schizophrenia fascinates me, makes me feel so helpless and useless as a clinician, and makes me grateful that medications exist.  The disease is a monster, so I have high respect for anyone searching for answers.

Some amazing research about schizophrenia has come out recently, and though both studies kinda say different things, both are relevant and both can be right.  See, the problem with schizophrenia is that it seems to be many different causes of it, both genetic and environmental.

Having multiple origins makes sense to me: people with schizophrenia aren’t exactly procreating constantly, so if it was just a genetic disorder, it would have selected itself out by now.  So here we have two possible links to schizophrenia- cats and marijuana.  Read on if this stuff interests you, and also, it should.  It’s amazing stuff.

Toxoplasma gonii, a microbe common in cats, is also present in 1/3 of all humans on earth.  It happens.  For the most part it won’t hurt you, but for some folk, it can get into your brain, cause infections, hurt your unborn babies, and change your behavior.  These researchers found that exposure to T. gonii can cause the behaviors that make up a schizophrenia diagnosis, so if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck….

Why though?  Why does this happen to some people and not to others?  How can some people be infected and move on, how can some people have the microbe and not ever become infected, how are some people so crippled by it?  That we don’t know yet.  What we do know is that in order to get into a cat’s system, which is T. gondii’s favorite place to reproduce, this microbe will get into rodents first and alter their brain chemistry, specifically making them less afraid of cats. They find themselves attracted to the smell of cat urine, they start acting in ways that are contradictory to their survival, and boom- they’re eaten by cats.  Is it possible that this microbe affects humans in the same way, causing schizophrenia?

And in this corner, we have marijuana.  There’s long been a link between schizophrenia and marijuana.  Schizophrenics are twice as likely to smoke, which makes sense to me, they need any kind of relief they can get, but pot smokers are also twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.  Whoooa.

But if that’s the case, as the number of pot smokers has increased through the years (and it has), the number of cases of schizophrenia should also go up, right?  But it doesn’t.  It remains, as always, affecting 1% of the population.

Scientists studying people who have schizophrenia and smoke pot found that a) for a select number, pot only makes their symptoms worse, b) for that select number, they all started smoking 3 years earlier than everyone else in the study, before age 17, and c) this select number all had a family history of schizophrenia.  It’s possible that the development of schizophrenia could be delayed or even prevented by keeping these kids from smoking up.

The relationship between pot and schizophrenia is complicated, because for some people it helps their symptoms, some it hurts, and some it does both.  All I know is that I don’t blame them for seeking comfort.  Read more about their findings here.

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  1. Carol Ann Hoel said,

    Very interesting. I know some people with this problem. Thank you very much for sharing.

  2. ann watts said,

    i love cats and i love weed… call me crazy.

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