The development of psychosis can be the result of a traumatic childhood event. Sexual abuse is one factor that has been shown to increase the likelihood of psychosis. Emerging research is suggesting that cannabis use is another factor that significantly increases the risk for psychotic symptoms. However, there is little research devoted to examining how early sexual trauma and cannabis use influence each other and an individual’s risk for psychosis later in life. J. E. Houston of the Division of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. wanted to find out how these two distinct experiences would affect one’s chances of developing psychosis. Houston recently led a study that examined information from 7,403 individuals who participated in the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey of 2007. Specifically, Houston and a team of researchers looked at individuals who had experienced a sexual trauma or sexual abuse prior to the age of 16. Additionally, participants who used cannabis before age 16 were also identified.
For the study, the team asked questions that were related to sexual abuse to determine if the participants had been talked to in a sexually explicit way, touched, or forced to have nonconsensual sex prior to reaching the age of 16. They also identified which participants had used cannabis during their early teen years. The results of the analysis revealed that the participants who had experienced both cannabis use and sexual trauma before the age of 16 were almost 7 times more likely to develop psychosis later in life than individuals who had never used cannabis or been the victim of abuse. Those who had never used cannabis but were survivors of sexual abuse were six times more likely to exhibit psychotic symptoms than nonusing individuals with no history of abuse. The researchers believe that these findings are significant and should be examined more closely. “Future studies examining the effect of cannabis consumption on psychosis should adjust analyses for childhood trauma.” Houston added, “Childhood trauma may advance existing gene-environment conceptualizations of the cannabis-psychosis link.”
Houston, J. E., Murphy, J., Shevlin, M., Adamson, G. Cannabis Use and Psychosis: Re-visiting the Role of Childhood Trauma. Psychological Medicine 41.11 (2011): 2339-348. Print.
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