A mother driven insane by cannabis stabbed herself repeatedly through the chest with a carving knife after claiming she was spoken to by a dog.

Julie Cross told friends the animal was "trying to tell her something" before picking up the 5in blade and ramming it at least five times into her chest and abdomen.

An inquest was told the former receptionist, from Goring, used speed and cannabis on a daily basis and in the weeks running up to her death had slashed her wrists and smeared her blood across a crucifix and also hung a noose from her attic.

Katie Leason, spokeswoman for mental health charity Rethink, said the case further proved that cannabis causes severe mental illness. "We don't believe there is any doubt about it now. There is a proven link between the drug and psychosis," said Ms Leason.

Rhys Cotton, 20, who lived with Miss Cross and her son Terry Greenslade, 22, discovered her body slumped on the floor on the morning of June 27 last year, after his blood-stained dogs ran to alert him as he got out of the bath.

Ms Cross, 41, suffered three fatal puncture wounds to her lungs and liver, the deepest of which was 4in long with other minor superficial knife injuries.

Mr Cotton, who called Miss Cross his "auntie", was the only person in the house at the time of the tragedy and was arrested the same day on suspicion of murder but later released.

He said during a police interview, which was read at the inquest: "I went upstairs and could see into her bedroom. "She said to me, 'I think the dog is trying to tell me something.' "I thought that was quite strange. A lot of things she did I found strange, but didn't really think too much about it."

He added: "She would tell me that she regularly heard voices and would often trash the house."

The hearing, at Worthing Town Hall, was told that Miss Cross, from Limbrick Lane, had drug-induced psychosis diagnosed in 2006.

It had led to her spending much of her last year in and out of the Mill View psychiatric hospital. The inquest heard that during what was described as a "very difficult life" Miss Cross had made repeated attempts on her own life, starting at the age of 14.

She had suffered two acrimonious divorces and on one occasion a spurned husband had returned to the family home with a can of petrol and a lighter, threatening to firebomb the property.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Johns released Mr Cotton after he gave a "full and plausible" account of the incident.

That, coupled with Miss Cross's history and an absence of evidence of other third-party involvement, led the detective to conclude the wounds were self-inflicted.

Pathologist Dr Robert Chapman, who carried out a post-mortem examination on Miss Cross, agreed. He told the inquest: "There were a number of factors which allow us to make a judgment that is consistent with self-inflicted injuries."

Asked if Miss Cross would have been strong enough and capable enough of repeatedly stabbing herself, Dr Chapman said: "I think somebody would be capable of doing this. The major wound would not have instantly disabled her."

The coroner recorded a verdict of misadventure, saying the wounds could have been a "cry for help".

Miss Cross' family and friends told The Argus they believe she was murdered and would not have been able to inflict the wounds.

After the hearing, Amanda Cross, her sister, said: "She hated violence and adored Terry. She wouldn't have taken her own life. We are not going to let this drop."