Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in America. Almost 70 percent of people who have bipolar disorder use cannabis during their lifetime, but can the use of marijuana treat mental health conditions? Is medical marijuana bipolar treatment safe and effective? These common questions can be explained by exploring the relationship between marijuana and bipolar disorder.
Several anecdotal reports state that marijuana helps bipolar disorder. Marijuana essentially slows down the brain, which is why people with bipolar disorder may choose cannabis to help alleviate stress, anxiety and manic symptoms. Cannabis may seem like a good alternative to prescription medications that prove ineffective. According to interviews conducted by Psychiatry Advisor, several patients of a California marijuana dispensary reported that cannabis helps reduce the frequency of mood swings, racing thoughts and feelings of dread, making their daily life more manageable.
Existing studies on the relationship between marijuana and bipolar disorder conclude that marijuana use may contribute to worsened depressive and manic symptoms. Data from the Journal of Affective Disorders states that among people with bipolar disorder, marijuana use is associated with both early onset of manic periods and more frequent depressive episodes.
Many medical professionals dissuade people from using marijuana to treat bipolar disorder as it is not a safe and reliable medicine for everyone. “It can complicate the management of bipolar disorder by virtue of causing mood instability and psychosis in certain patients with bipolar disorder,” said psychiatrist Girish Subramanyan in an interview with Psychiatry Advisor. “Moreover, it’s not uncommon for me to see patients with bipolar disorder relapse into mania with recent cannabis use.”
One of the most concerning issues with combining marijuana and bipolar disorder is self-medication. Many people who use marijuana to treat bipolar disorder self-medicate without a doctor’s guidance. Self-medication with any drug for any condition, including marijuana and bipolar disorder, may not work and could be life-threatening. “‘Self-medicating’ is an extremely serious concern for our population,” says mental health journalist John McManamy. “Co-occurring substance abuse can effectively turn treatable bipolar into untreatable bipolar.”
Recent research shows that chemicals called cannabinoids in marijuana may have antidepressant and sedative effects for people with bipolar disorder. These qualities may make medical marijuana bipolar treatment seem like a good choice, but there are also many reports of people who have experienced adverse side effects from marijuana, which could impact bipolar disorder symptoms.
For people who live with bipolar disorder, marijuana use can cause panic, hallucinations, feelings of depression or delusions. Because these can all be symptoms of bipolar disorder, medical marijuana and bipolar disorder may not be the safest combination. Additionally, the THC component of marijuana activates the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear. When the amygdala is affected by a drug like marijuana, someone can experience feelings of anxiety and paranoia.
Can You Get Medical Marijuana for Bipolar Disorder?
Current medical marijuana laws in most American states say that only a few physical and mental health conditions qualify for medical marijuana treatment. According to a report from 2017, bipolar disorder is not considered a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in any state. This ruling may change as research develops on marijuana, bipolar disorder and alternative medicine.
The consensus about medical marijuana for bipolar treatment is that using marijuana to treat this condition without a medical professional’s guidance is not recommended. Ultimately, there are too many unknown factors with marijuana use and no scientific evidence that it can treat bipolar disorder. One of the safest approaches a person can take is getting help from a clinician experienced in treating bipolar disorder.
Marijuana’s effects on bipolar disorder may include:
- Making bipolar disorder symptoms worse: Marijuana use can induce feelings of mania, paranoia and, in some cases, psychosis.
- More frequent depressive episodes: For someone with bipolar disorder, marijuana use can lead to overwhelming depressive episodes. After the effects of marijuana wear off, depressive symptoms can worsen.
- Less adherence to a medication regimen: If someone uses marijuana regularly, the person may be less inclined to take their prescribed medicine. Skipping or forgoing necessary pills can be extremely dangerous or even deadly if the person experiences suicidal thoughts without their medication.
How to Get Help for Bipolar Disorder and Co-Occurring Marijuana Use (h2)
If you have bipolar disorder, it can be tempting to substitute marijuana for your prescribed medicine, but this can lead to marijuana abuse and addiction. If you feel like you can’t stop use marijuana even when you try, you may have a co-occurring marijuana addiction. Dual-diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders can help heal from your marijuana use disorder and your bipolar disorder symptoms.
To learn more or get to start treatment, you can:
- Complete a marijuana addiction self-assessment: This short quiz can help you evaluate your risk of marijuana addiction. You will receive a detailed email explaining your risk level and recommended next steps.
- Call The Recovery Village’s marijuana hotline: This marijuana hotline is completely confidential, free and available at any time. Representatives are available to talk with you about your marijuana use and discuss treatment options.
- Marijuana is one of the most commonly abused drugs among people with bipolar disorder.
- It is unproven whether marijuana can treat bipolar disorder.
- Marijuana use does not cause bipolar disorder, but recent studies show that it can worsen the symptoms of the disorder.
- Bipolar disorder is not listed as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana treatment.
- Professional treatment is available for people who face co-occurring disorders like bipolar disorder and marijuana addiction.
Journal of Affective Disorders. “Cannabis Use and First Manic Episode.” Published August 20, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2018.
Psychiatry Advisor. “Cannabis Use in Bipolar Disorder Presents a Treatment Challenge.” Published August 28, 2018. Accessed November 29, 2018.
The University of Washington. “Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health:
Bipolar Disorder.” Published June 2017. Accessed November 29, 2018.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Cannabinoids in Bipolar Affective Disorder.” Published September 18, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2018.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.