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Dr Marta Di Forti

Dr Marta Di Forti

  • Academics

MRC Senior Clinical Fellow

BRC Senior Lecturer.

Biography

In 2004 Dr Di Forti was awarded a grant jointly with Professor Sir Robin Murray and others a grant to start the Genetics and Psychotic Disorder (GAP) study, examining the genetic and environmental causes of psychosis. This was her first important academic project, and she was able to build-up a group of 20 researchers, whose work generated over 40 papers and 14 PhDs, including her own, awarded in 2012. The GAP study is something she is very proud of because it still provides a source of data for PhDs and projects for young researchers.

In 2014 Dr Di Forti obtained an MRC Clinical Senior Fellowship, focused on the causal link between cannabis use and psychotic disorders to analyse cannabis data from a complex multi-site study of psychosis spanning 6 countries. She has published the first evidence that:

  • (2009) High potency carries more risk than use of traditional forms.
  • (2013) Those first episode psychosis patients that have used high potency cannabis experience their illness onset 6 years earlier than those who never used it.
  • (2014) Genetic variants part of the dopamine system may play a role in the individual susceptibility to the psychotogenic effect of cannabis
  • (2015) In south London, 24% of new cases of psychotic disorders can be attributed to high potency cannabis use
  • (2019) High potency cannabis use and daily use of cannabis impact on rates of psychotic disorders across 11 European sites, including London. This paper has already been cited 161 times and was recently quoted by the US surgeon general in his statement on the risks of cannabis use.

The above work has been of great public health importance given the worldwide move towards legalisation of cannabis for medicinal or recreational use. Not surprisingly, the media have been very interested in this work, which has been the focus of numerous articles and programmes in major newspapers, TV and radio across Europe, North America and beyond.

The above work provided the evidence to obtain, in 2019, funding from the Maudsley Charity, to develop the first and only Cannabis Clinic for Patients with Psychosis in the UK. This is much-appreciated patients and their carers. As a Clinical Academic, Dr Di Forti considers this one of her most important achievement because it has the potential to significantly impact on the quality of life of the young adults she cares for, who experience psychosis in the context of heavy cannabis use.

In 2020 Dr Di Forti was awarded the prestigious MRC Senior Clinical Scientist Fellowship. This provides a unique opportunity to bring together genetics, epigenetics, peripheral levels of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids, alongside Virual Reality social scenario-exposure data from current heavy cannabis users and young adults suffering their first psychotic episode. In addition, for the first time, Dr Di Forti will embrace the challenge of analyzing data from human participants in parallel with data from behavioral, genetic and epigenetic data from a mouse model of chronic exposure to cannabinoids. A challenge made possible by her collaboration with two world-leading experts in the fields, Professor Beatriz Rico from the MRC Developmental Centre at KCL and Professor Yasmin Hurd at Mount Sinai, NY. This work aims to identify the biological pathways to psychosis among cannabis users.

Dr Di Forti is now regarded as one of the leading researchers in the world in the field of cannabis and psychosis. Her h-index is 40. The work of her research team has contributed to keep the UK at the forefront of research into cannabis-associated psychosis.