Coping With Bipolar Disorder: How Medical Marijuana Can Help

Photo Credit: Medical Jane

Photo Credit: Medical Jane

Bipolar disorder (BPD) is a chronic mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings between uncontrollable highs and lows known as mania and depression. Symptoms of BPD may also mimic other illness symptoms, and many patients also suffer from other issues like anxiety disorder, thyroid disease, and migraines or headaches. There are four types of BPD that fall under bipolar disorder 1, bipolar disorder 2, cyclothymic disorder, or other specified and unspecified bipolar related disorders. While research is limited when it comes to medical marijuana for BPD, there are still some studies that suggest the medication could be beneficial. One review published by C.H. Ashton, et al., in the Journal of Psychopharmacology explored the potential for cannabinoids to treat BPD and found anecdotal reports suggested patients took medical cannabis to alleviate both mania and depression symptoms. Authors found THC and CBD, "may exert sedative, hypnotic, anxiolytic, antidepressant, antipsychotic and anticonvulsant effects..."

In 2012, Raphael J. Braga examined the cognitive and clinical outcomes associated with cannabis use in patients with bipolar I disorder. Braga compared clinical and neurocognitive measures in individuals with BPD to a history of cannabis use disorder (CUD) or no history of CUD, specifically looking at clinical and demographic variables and performance on neurocognitive tests. Researchers found those with CUD performed better on measures of attention, processing speed, and working memory. Another study published in PLOS ONE in 2015 asked 24 patients with BPD I or II to write in diaries for 6 days using Experience Sampling Methodology to look at the temporal associations between cannabis, affect, and BPD symptoms. The study found cannabis use coincided with a number of psychological effects, but that there was no evidence that those with BPD were using cannabis to self-medicate in minor fluctuations over the course of daily life.

Lastly, another study published in PLOS ONE in 2016 under Kelly Sagar, et al., looked at a larger study from 2008-2014 involving 12 BPD patients who used cannabis, 18 BPD patients who abstained, 23 cannabis users without BPD, and 21 controls without BPD who also abstained from use. All completed neuropsychological assessments, and some completed daily EMA assessments for four weeks. Researchers found no significant differences in cognitive function between BPD patients who used or did not use cannabis, meaning they did not suffer additional impairment, but BPD patients who regularly smoked cannabis reported reduced mood symptoms, which suggests marijuana may be able to stabilize mood.

This information has been provided by Medical Jane and approved by our Chief Medical Officer.