Marijuana can help bipolar disorder. That is excellent news for many who suffer from severe mood swings. But the caveat is it does not help everyone and – like any other treatment regime – some are intolerant to cannabis or can experience a worsening of symptoms.
So I will tread caustiously here and just give you the facts with, like I always do, scientific studies and resaerch to back up the information. Let’s hit it. Works a little as a pun, yes?
Marijuana Commonly Used to Self-Medicate in Bipolar Disorder
I read – over and over – that “marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance” in Bipolar Disorder patients (BP-1, BP-2, etc.). I personally find this surprising. I would think alcohol would be the number one self-medicating substance.
But until recently pot was illegal, alcohol legal to use. So for ‘illicit substances’ i.e. illegal substances, marijuana as the main one does make sense. It is legal in some states, not all.
NORMAL has a very cool map that shows which states have decriminalized marijuana, legalized only medical use, has conditional laws regarding possession and use, etc. Check it out here.
A Few Facts about Marijuana:
1. Marijuana is used by many with bipolar disorder to help regulate moods.
2. Marijuana comes in many different forms (herb, pill, edible, liquid tinctures), at different potencies and with different psychoactive effects. Know what you are taking, if trying medicinally.
3. There are two primary types of marijuana: cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.
4. Sativa will give a stimulant effect, indica will most likely mellow you out and possibly make you feel sleepy.
5. THC is the active indredient in cannabis sativa, CBD is the main active property of indica strains.
It is important to emphasize that with Bipolar 1 Disorder, there is always a chance of becoming manic. Some become psychotic (paranoid, hallucinate) from ingesting or smoking marijuana. The type of pot with energetic-hallucinogenic effects is sativa.
If you are going to try it, know the risks. If you are on any psychotropic medication, that may increase the risk of an adverse reaction from marijuana use.
Some studies claim it is not effective and dangerous to take, others say those who report using marijuana report fewer symptoms and episodes of mania and depression. It may work for you, or it may not.The Type of Marijuana You Take for Bipolar Disorder May Affect Whether it Helps Symptoms. Click To Tweet
The difficulty with many BP studies is there is not clarification of what kind of marijuana was taken, what psych meds the person was on (if any), and what form of bipolar they have.
Bipolar 1 Disorder is NOT the same as BP-2, cyclothymic, etc.
Someone with primarily depression (then diagnosed BP-2) may have beneficial effects from the uplifting form sativa. A BP-1 person like me could very easily have an adverse effect and trigger an episode of mania.
The more sedating type of marijuana – indica – may help a BP-1 person sleep better and prevent mania. For someone who experiences primarily depression, it may make them worse (more lethargic, unmotivated, depressed).
Therapeutic Effects of Marijuana in Bipolar Disorder
Have you ever heard of the term ‘endocannabinoids‘?
These are naturally occuring chemicals in the body that help with nerve cell communication. They help maintain chemical balance in the brain.
Endocannabinoids act on the same receptors as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active component of cannabis sativa.
In fact, it was the discovery of psychoactive THC (a plant cannabinoid) by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam in the 1960s that led to the discovery of similar compounds in our body. Source: The Endocannabinoid System for Dummies.
And now in 2017 we are fortunate to have medical literature full of studies of how these compounds may help those with a mood disorder.
“They concluded that both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) from medical marijuana are similar to standard medications being used to treat bipolar affective disorder.”
“Based on this finding and the mounting evidence that THC and CBD can affect synaptic action, the researchers feel that patients with bipolar affective disorder could benefit from medical marijuana.”
There you have it. The medicinal properties i.e. active components of marijuana are similar to those of some psychotropic medications prescribed by a psychiatrist. But pot isn’t toxic, psych meds are.
Note: The above quote was included in the article, I could not find the actual research study.
Marijuana May Make Some Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Worse
The below is quoted from a 2015 research study of bipolar patients who use marijuana.
“Cannabis is the street drug most frequently used by individuals with bipolar disorder (BD). Estimates of current use range from 8% to 22% and lifetime use from 30% to 64%.”
“Cannabis use in BD is associated with poorer outcomes, including increased symptom severity and poorer treatment compliance.”
“A recent study found that individuals who were diagnosed with BD and a co-occurring cannabis disorder had a younger age of BD onset and an increased number of manic, hypomanic and depressive episodes per year.”
That is not encouraging news. But the study was a minute sampling of those who smoke weed to help with moodswings. And it is still an illegal substance in many states, so the majority of users will not be showing up in any medical research.
The number of those who are helped, and do not have worsening of symptoms, may be much higher than the above information indicates.
Bipolar researchers are usually evaluating a study group that is on psychotropic medications. These medications cause many adverse reactions. What was observed above could in part be due to prescribed psych meds, not the marijuana. Or from a dual effect.
In addition, those who may want off the psych meds, and try pot are in a very vulnerable situation. That could also explain the results above. Psychiatric medication withdrawal is serious business, and needs to be done with medical supervision.
Related post: Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal Resources.
Some Studies Say Smoking Pot Can Trigger Mania
Makes perfect sense. In general, pot gets you high, the basic underlying pathology of bipolar disorder is not clearly understood. When some smoke pot, who may have a genetic vulnerability, they may become manic-psychotic.
Especially if they have ingested strains that are excitatory, speed you up – the sativa blends. And same as with any drug (legal or prescribed) effects will depend on the potency, amount you take and how often you take it.
That may be the real problem. Patients with bipolar disorder do not know what type of marijuana to use for their symptoms, how much to smoke or ingest and how often.
The below is quoted from the research study “Cannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features“:
“There has been considerable debate regarding the causal relationship between chronic cannabis abuse and psychiatric disorders.”
“Clinicians agree that cannabis use can cause acute adverse mental effects that mimic psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although there is good evidence to support this, the connections are complex and not fully understood.”
Source: PubMed Central (PMC).
My two cents is that it is something worth learning about, and for some bipolar disorder patients could be helpful. If interested in trying it, do more research.
I actually tried this form of self-medicating many years ago and it did not work for me. But I know others who it helps tremendously. And prevents them from having to take very harmful psychotropic meds.