Cannabis use and clinical outcome in people with first-episode schizophrenia spectrum disorders over 24 months of treatment

Freda Scheffler*, Lebogang Phahladira, Hilmar Luckhoff, Stefan du Plessis, Laila Asmal, Sanja Kilian, Marta Di Forti, Robin Murray, Robin Emsley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Cannabis use is associated with an unfavourable course of illness in schizophrenia, although several factors may confound this association. In this longitudinal study, we explored the influence of cannabis use on baseline symptom severity and treatment outcomes in 98 patients with first-episode schizophrenia spectrum disorders treated with a long acting injectable antipsychotic over 24 months. Using mixed models for repeated measures, we compared visit-wise changes in psychopathology, social and occupational functioning and quality of life between recent/current cannabis users (n=45) and non-users (n=53). There were no significant group by time interactions for any of our outcomes, and with the exception of poorer functionality in cannabis users at baseline, no significant differences in these domains at baseline or month 24. Also, remission rates were similar. However, more cannabis users met our operationally defined relapse criteria compared to non-users, and more frequent cannabis use over the course of treatment, as assessed by positive urine toxicology testing, predicted relapse. Our results suggest that cannabis users do not have poorer treatment response than non-users in terms of symptom reduction over the 24 months of treatment. However, dose-related risk of relapse remains with ongoing cannabis use, possibly by directly reducing the threshold for psychotic breakthrough.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114022
JournalPsychiatry Research
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Antipsychotics
  • Psychosis
  • Substance use
  • Treatment outcome


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