How Does Cannabis Affect Bipolar Disorder?
Cannabis use is popular in patients with bipolar disorder, but only recently have more studies been conducted to determine whether cannabis has potential as a treatment for the illness.
Bipolar disorder is a well-studied mental health condition that many non-diagnosed individuals struggle to fully understand. Although pharmaceutical drugs and psychotherapy are the primary treatments for this illness, scientists are increasingly conducting research to gauge the effects of cannabis on different types of bipolar disorder.
WHAT IS BIPOLAR DISORDER?
Bipolar disorder manifests in four varieties, but all types maintain certain characteristics. Also referred to as manic-depressive illness, the cornerstone of this disease involves periods of unusually high energy and ecstasy, also known as mania. Conversely, extremely low mood, fatigue and hopelessness are signs of another symptom: depressive episodes.
The varieties are as follows: Bipolar I disorder is what some wrongly assume to be the only variety of this disease. This type is classified by sustained periods of mania, lasting more than a week. Patients diagnosed with bipolar I experience depressive episodes as well, resulting in dramatic shifts in mood from one day to the next. Bipolar I can be incredibly obstructive to one’s daily routine and in some cases requires hospitalization.
Bipolar II is categorized predominantly by extended depressive episodes. While patients of this variety may struggle with occasional manic episodes, their condition is highlighted more by consistently “low” moods, lack of energy and decreased ability to function.
Cyclothymia  is the third category of bipolar disorder and affects individuals in a less cut and dry way than the previous two. This type is characterized by sustained periods of hypomanic and depressive behaviors that don’t necessarily reach the heights of full manic or depressive episodes.
The fourth and final type of bipolar includes all other specified and unspecified varieties of this disease as diagnosed by health professionals.
HOW CANNABIS COMES INTO PLAY
As cannabis is further reinforced as medically beneficial, it only makes sense that researchers and physicians consider how cannabinoids interact with bipolar disorder – for better or worse. Involving the treatment of brain disorders, cannabis has been thrust back and forth between research camps as both beneficial and detrimental. This is largely to do with the illicit nature of the substance and its historical connotations as being devoid of medical benefit.
A SPECTRUM OF EARLY FINDINGS
There have been some preliminary studies of cannabis on bipolar disorder, most of which were performed on relatively few participants. A recent study  conducted at Lancaster University (UK) sampled twenty-four patients with bipolar disorder who used cannabis at least three times a week. The study was conducted using the experience sampling method (ESM) where participants recorded their findings via diary entry over a period of six days. Each observed how cannabis affected their manic and/or depressive episodes.
Ultimately, the findings of this study were somewhat inconclusive. The study concluded that while the manic and depressive symptoms of some participants increased with cannabis use, most patients who used it enjoyed its positive effects and were more likely to consume it for enjoyment, than as a medicine. The clear issues surrounding this study are the small sample size and lack of a control group, which make it difficult to assess broader trends throughout many patients.
THC VS. CBD
When performing studies of cannabis use for the treatment of bipolar disorder, researchers must consider the differences between consumption methods. Depending on the type of cannabis consumed, scientific findings may be skewed by errors in consistency from study to study. For instance, bipolar patients who smoke cannabis concentrates with extremely high THC levels are likely to experience more adverse mood responses than those smoking CBD rich strains of cannabis flower.
This is because THC is known to incite acute anxiety and paranoia in some consumers, while CBD is effective in mediating the negative effects of psychotropic symptoms. It’s also essential to recognise the type of strain being studied, whether it is sativa, indica or hybrid. Each will produce different results individually and on a larger scale. The lack of comprehensive scientific inclusion of different cannabis methods makes it difficult to maintain consistency across samplings.
DOES CANNABIS CAUSE BIPOLAR DISORDER?
Although cannabis has been found to temporarily mimic the symptoms  of some psychiatric disorders, there is no evidence that cannabis use causes chronic brain disorders or mental illness. In bipolar patients, the effects of cannabis depend on the variety of the illness, as well as the patient’s cannabis smoking habits, height, weight, among other influential factors.
Researchers who argue that cannabis is beneficial in treating bipolar disorder focus on the effects of cannabinoids on the human endocannabinoid system. When consuming cannabis, cannabinoids such as THC bind to endocannabinoid receptors  known as CB1 and CB2 in different parts of the body and can potentially encourage mood stabilizing effects.
A study performed in 2010 at the University of Oslo, Norway tested 133 bipolar patients on the effects of cannabis on neurocognitive functioning  . The results were encouraging, concluding that there is indeed evidence to support the theory, but that it requires additional research in order to be effectively implicated.
CANNABIS FOR MANIA VS. DEPRESSION
Cannabis use is higher  in bipolar patients than average, and largely reflects their desire to alleviate depression or come down from a manic episode. While some anecdotal studies have followed patients whose mania was culled by the sedative effects  of CBD and THC, others use it during depressive periods to experience the uplifting sensation of euphoria.
The takeaway from current research of cannabis on bipolar patients is that there simply aren’t enough compelling studies to say definitively if it can effectively treat bipolar patients. While it has been shown to spur symptoms of anxiety and mania, many patients use cannabis not as medication, but for their personal enjoyment when they are not experiencing an episode. Cannabis offers a wide range of medical implications and could very well be one of the keys to natural mental healthcare in the near future.
Early research shows surprising findings between cannabis and bipolar disorder. Learn the different varieties of bipolar and if it can be treated with cannabis.
Treating Bipolar Disorder with Marijuana: Is It Safe?
Bipolar disorder and marijuana
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can cause extreme changes in mood. This can include low, depressive episodes and high, manic episodes. These shifts in mood can be both extreme and unpredictable.
Someone living with bipolar disorder can also have symptoms of psychosis including:
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
- delusions (believing something is true that isn’t)
Going through the emotional highs and lows of bipolar disorder can greatly affect a person’s ability to function in day-to-day life. There’s no cure for bipolar disorder, but treatments can help.
Standard treatments, such as prescription medications and therapy, can help a person manage their mood changes and other symptoms. Researchers continue to look into other treatment options as well, including medical marijuana.
But is it safe? Here’s what we currently know about the pros and cons of marijuana use in people with bipolar disorder.
Marijuana is from the cannabis plant whose dried leaves, stems, and seeds can be smoked, eaten, or “vaped.”
Marijuana contains compounds called cannabinoids. These compounds include a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is the ingredient in marijuana that can make a person feel “high.”
While marijuana and medical marijuana aren’t currently legal in all states, doctors are discovering how the compounds could help relieve certain symptoms in people with chronic conditions.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), compounds in marijuana may help treat symptoms such as:
- appetite loss
- muscle control issues
Today, there are medications available that contain compounds similar to cannabinoids, but don’t make a person feel high. An example is dronabinol (Marinol), which doctors prescribe for people with cancer to stimulate their appetite.
Smoking or consuming marijuana on its own might be helpful in reducing the side effects of some conditions, such as certain types of cancer. However, the research isn’t as conclusive when it comes to bipolar disorder.
Because marijuana can have anxiety-relieving effects, some people think it can help people with bipolar disorder to improve their moods.
Some research has found no harmful effects from marijuana use, while other research has found actual benefits. Examples include the following:
Low mental impairment and better moods
A pilot study published in 2016 found that people with bipolar disorder didn’t experience significant mental impairment when using marijuana compared to people with bipolar disorder who didn’t use marijuana.
Critics of marijuana use for bipolar disorder say that it affects a person’s thinking and memory. This study didn’t find that to be true.
The study also found that after using marijuana, the participants with bipolar disorder reported better moods.
Mood enhancing and a positive outlook
A study published in 2015 found that marijuana use in some people with bipolar disorder enhanced their mood and promoted a more positive outlook. However, the researchers found that people were more likely to use marijuana when they were already having a good day mood-wise and not when their symptoms were more severe.
It’s important to keep in mind that the research surrounding the beneficial effects of marijuana use in bipolar disorder is very preliminary. Also, marijuana can affect each person differently, so these results don’t suggest that marijuana can benefit everyone with bipolar disorder.
Some researchers have actually found that marijuana use can make symptoms of bipolar disorder worse in some people. Examples of their studies include:
Triggering manic episodes and worsening symptoms
A review published in early 2015 found that using marijuana could make manic symptoms worse in a person with bipolar disorder. They also found that marijuana use could trigger a manic episode.
In addition, the 2015 study above touting benefits to marijuana use, also found that it worsened manic or depressive symptoms in some people.
Higher rates of attempted suicide and early onset
According to another study from 2015, suicide attempt rates in people with bipolar disorder were higher in those who used marijuana than in those who didn’t use marijuana.
The study also found that people who used marijuana were younger at bipolar disorder onset (when their symptoms first started) than those who didn’t use it. This is a concern, as doctors think that a younger age at onset causes worse symptoms throughout a person’s life.
The effect of marijuana on early onset and suicide rates wasn’t clear however, researchers said.
While marijuana may help some people with bipolar disorder, these studies show that it could also cause problems for others with the condition.
Research has also shown that the use of marijuana can affect people differently based on their genetics.
According to the NIDA, people who carry certain gene types are more likely to experience psychosis. For instance, people who have an unusual variation of the AKT1 gene are more likely to have psychosis, and the risk is higher if they use marijuana.
Also, psychosis risks from adolescent use of marijuana have been linked with a genetic variation in the gene that controls an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT).
If you have bipolar disorder and are considering using marijuana as a treatment, talk to your doctor about possibly testing for these or other genetic variations.
Right now, there isn’t enough research to say whether marijuana use for treating bipolar disorder is a good thing or a bad thing.
Some people have reported positive effects, such as improved mood. But others have reported negative effects, such as worsened mania or suicidal thoughts. Further research is needed on marijuana’s effects on bipolar disorder, as well as the long-term effects of prolonged use.
What doctors do know is that marijuana isn’t as effective as prescription medication and therapy can be in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder. So if you have this condition, be sure to stick to the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.
If you’re considering using medical marijuana, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons first. Then, if you decide to try it, keep your doctor posted about how it affects you.
Together, you and your doctor can determine if it’s a good addition to your treatment plan.
Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
If you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, you may wonder about medicinal marijuana as a treatment option. We've got answers for you.