Methamphetamine use and schizophrenia: A population-based cohort study in California

Russell C. Callaghan, James K. Cunningham, Peter Allebeck, Tamara Arenovich, Gautam Sajeev, Gary Remington, Isabelle Boileau, Stephen J. Kish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Objective: Clinical investigators in Japan have long suggested that exposure to methamphetamine might cause a persistent schizophrenia-like psychosis. This possibility is discounted in the Western literature. To investigate the relationship between drug use and later schizophrenia, the authors conducted a large-scale cohort study of drug users initially free of persistent psychosis. Method: A population-based cohort study was conducted using data from California inpatient hospital discharge records from 1990 through 2000. Patients with methamphetamine-related conditions (N=42,412) and those with other drug use disorders (cannabis, cocaine, alcohol, and opioids) were propensity score-matched to individuals with primary appendicitis who served as a population proxy comparison group; the methamphetamine cohort was also matched to the other drug cohorts. Cox modeling was used to estimate differences between matched groups in the rates of subsequent admission with schizophrenia diagnoses. Results: The methamphetamine cohort had a significantly higher risk of schizophrenia than the appendicitis group (hazard ratio=9.37) and the cocaine, opioid, and alcohol groups (hazard ratios ranging from 1.46 to 2.81), but not significantly different from that of the cannabis group. The risk of schizophrenia was higher in all drug cohorts than in the appendicitis group. Conclusions: Study limitations include difficulty in confirming schizophrenia diagnoses independent of drug intoxication and the possibility of undetected schizophrenia predating drug exposure. The study 's findings suggest that individuals with methamphetamine-related disorders have a higher risk of schizophrenia than those with other drug use disorders, with the exception of cannabis use disorders. The elevated risk in methamphetamine users may be explained by shared etiological mechanisms involved in the development of schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-396
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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