Cannabis use and abuse correlates in a homogenous South African schizophrenia population

Liezl Koen, Regan Jonathan, Dana JH Niehaus


Objective. Worldwide, cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance, and it has been identified as a correlate in schizophrenia samples for poorer symptomatic and functional outcomes in many international studies. The object of this retrospective study was to identify the prevalence of cannabis use/abuse and the demographic and clinical correlates therefor in a large homogeneous South African schizophrenia population.

Methods. As part of a large genetic study, 547 subjects with a diagnosis of schizophrenia were recruited. Demographic and clinical data were collected and each participant underwent a urinary drug screen. Use/abuse of cannabis was defined as using cannabis more than 21 times in a single year. Subjects with and without cannabis use/abuse were statistically compared.

Results. Significant differences between the two groups were found in terms of gender, marital status, age of onset of schizophrenia, number of hospitalisations and relapses, alcohol abuse, smoking, the Scale for the Assessment of Positive Symptoms (SAPS) scores for hallucinations, delusions, bizarre behaviour and formal thought disorder, and the Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms (SANS) score for avolition/apathy.

Conclusion. The prevalence of cannabis use/abuse in this study was high, and our findings were comparable with those of previous international studies. Abuse/use started mainly in the teenage years, was more prevalent among males than females, and was associated with negative overall outcomes. There was also a positive correlation between cannabis and nicotine and alcohol use/abuse. Determination of cannabis abuse based solely on history was found to be reliable, and urine cannabis testing appeared to be of limited value in routine management of this group of schizophrenic patients.


Cannabis, Schizophrenia

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Submitted: 07 August 2008
Published: 01 March 2009

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)