Chronic cannabis abuse raises nerve growth factor serum
concentrations in drug-naive schizophrenic patients

Jockers-Scherubl MC, Matthies U, Danker-Hopfe H,
Lang UE, Mahlberg R, Hellweg R.
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy,
Charite-University Medicine Berlin,
Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany.
J Psychopharmacol. 2003 Dec;17(4):439-45


Long-term cannabis abuse may increase the risk of schizophrenia. Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a pleiotropic neurotrophic protein that is implicated in development, protection and regeneration of NFG-sensitive neurones. We tested the hypothesis that damage to neuronal cells in schizophrenia is precipitated by the consumption of cannabis and other neurotoxic substances, resulting in raised NGF serum concentrations and a younger age for disease onset. The NGF serum levels of 109 consecutive drug-naive schizophrenic patients were measured and compared with those of healthy controls. The results were correlated with the long-term intake of cannabis and other illegal drugs. Mean (+/- SD) NGF serum levels of 61 control persons (33.1 +/- 31.0 pg/ml) and 76 schizophrenics who did not consume illegal drugs (26.3 +/- 19.5 pg/ml) did not differ significantly. Schizophrenic patients with regular cannabis intake (> 0.5 g on average per day for at least 2 years) had significantly raised NGF serum levels of 412.9 +/- 288.4 pg/ml (n = 21) compared to controls and schizophrenic patients not consuming cannabis (p < 0.001). In schizophrenic patients who abused not only cannabis, but also additional substances, NGF concentrations were as high as 2336.2 +/- 1711.4 pg/ml (n = 12). On average, heavy cannabis consumers suffered their first episode of schizophrenia 3.5 years (n = 21) earlier than schizophrenic patients who abstained from cannabis. These results indicate that cannabis is a possible risk factor for the development of schizophrenia. This might be reflected in the raised NGF-serum concentrations when both schizophrenia and long-term cannabis abuse prevail.

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