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Tobacco smoking and its association with cognition in first episode psychosis patients

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Lauren M. Hickling, Rocio Perez-Iglesias, Victor Ortiz-García de la Foz, Vicent Balanzá-Martinez, Philip McGuire, Benedicto Crespo-Facorro, Rosa Ayesa-Arriola

Original languageEnglish
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Early online date12 Apr 2017
Accepted/In press8 Apr 2017
E-pub ahead of print12 Apr 2017


King's Authors


Available evidence suggests that nicotine may enhance cognitive functioning. Moreover, it has been suggested that the high prevalence of smoking in people with schizophrenia is in part due to self-medication behaviour to alleviate cognitive deficits. We assessed the association between tobacco smoking and cognitive functioning in a large population of first episode psychosis (FEP) patients (n = 304) and healthy controls (n = 156). Smokers were not tobacco deprived, or were minimally deprived (≤ 2 h). Verbal memory, visual memory, working memory, processing speed, executive function, motor dexterity and attention were assessed. The smoking prevalence among the FEP group was 57% (n = 174). The age at which patients began smoking cigarettes regularly was 16.2 years (SD = 3.1), an average of 12 years before experiencing the first frank symptoms of psychosis (age of onset = 28.8; SD = 9.3). The number of cigarettes smoked per day was 19.6 (SD = 9.4), significantly more than healthy controls [11.0 (SD = 7.6); p < 0.001]. ANCOVA analysis did not show any significant difference between smokers and non-smokers in in the performance of any of the cognitive tasks in the FEP group or in the healthy control group, independent of gender, age, education or premorbid IQ. This suggests chronic exposure to nicotine through cigarette smoking is not associated with cognitive functioning in first-episode psychosis. These findings do not support the nicotine self-medication hypothesis as a contributor to the high prevalence of smoking among individuals suffering from serious mental illness.

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