Dr Di Forti’s MRC Fellowship will support her programme that seeks both to understand the wider impact of heavy cannabis use on the mental health of young adults beyond clinical psychosis (e.g. paranoia, social disability in members of the general population) and to identify the genetic, epigenetic and peripheral biological markers that indicate those young adults for whom recreational or medicinal cannabis use carries special risk.
I am delighted and extremely grateful to have been awarded this prestigious fellowship. As a clinician I devote my time to treating young people who have developed a psychotic disorder in the context of heavy cannabis use, and it is my work with them that drives the research questions I seek to address. I trust that the novelty of my proposed work and the strength of the collaborations that support it will bring us closer to understanding the biological pathways that lead to psychosis among cannabis users. Hopefully this will lead on to new approaches to the prevention and treatment of psychotic disorders linked to cannabis use.– Dr Marta di Forti, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King's College London
Epidemiological and experimental evidence implicate cannabis use as the most preventable among the risk factors for psychotic disorder and schizophrenia, the latter has in England an annual cost of £12 billion. However, only a minority of cannabis users develop psychotic disorder, and it is unclear what makes some particularly susceptible. This is a question of global importance given that 200 million people use cannabis daily, and the increase of laws legalising cannabis for medicinal or recreational use.
Dr Di Forti’s proposal builds on current advances in biological psychiatry, as well as the available resources within King's College London such as virtual reality technology and unique opportunities for an animal model collaboration with Professor Marin and Professor Rico’s MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Her planned work aims to clarify the mechanisms underlying differences in susceptibility to the effects of heavy cannabis use in inducing paranoia and other psychotic symptoms within, and beyond, frank clinical disorder, and to provide guidance for treating psychotic disorder in the context of cannabis use.
Dr Di Forti has written some of the most cited papers in the field of cannabis use and psychosis. For example, her paper, ‘The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across Europe (EU-GEI)’ ranked among the world’s most influential scientific studies in 2019 in the annual Altmetric Top 100 list.
She has recently completed her MRC Clinical Scientist Fellow and she is currently a BRC Senior Lecturer at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the IoPPN. She is also Honorary Consultant Adult Psychiatrist, Lambeth Community team, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and she runs the first and only Cannabis Clinic for Patients with Psychosis in the UK.