A question we get asked from time to time on Growers Network is if cannabis can be used to treat bipolar disorder. It’s a tricky question to answer because bipolar disorder isn’t like a lot of other mental disorders. A large number of mental disorders display relatively consistent behaviors and symptoms, and can manifest similarly. But not bipolar disorder. So let’s address what bipolar is first, and see if cannabis can help.
What is bipolar disorder?
Let’s start with the DSM-V. The DSM-V or “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition,” is the standard textbook of psychiatric conditions used by psychologists and psychiatrists around the world. It has 2 varieties of bipolar disorder, cleverly named “Bipolar 1” and “Bipolar 2”.
For both varieties of bipolar, you can read about the symptoms here. Essentially they describe a “manic” and “depressive” state for both varieties that someone with the disorder can swing between, depending on their emotional state and the environment.
During the manic state, individuals with bipolar disorder will often experience increased energy, racing thoughts, inability to focus (or the inverse, excessive focus), generally positive mood, and symptoms of hyperactivity. Then, when the individual with bipolar disorder swings back to the “depressive” state, they often experience the opposite symptoms, such as decreased energy, decreased self esteem, generally negative mood, and symptoms of depression. These “swings” typically happen within short periods such as a few days to a week, and are not caused by drugs, medication side effects, or some other psychiatric conditions.
So is cannabis useful for treating bipolar disorder?
Well… the science is mixed on this. Cannabis is the most common drug used by self-medicating bipolar patients, and sometimes it can be hard for psychiatrists and psychologists to separate behaviors from cannabis from the behaviors due to bipolar disorder. Additionally, there is some evidence that cannabis can even trigger bipolar disorder in patients with psychotic tendencies, and a report found that cannabis use can exacerbate negative outcomes in patients with bipolar disorder.
However, individuals with bipolar disorder have reported relief from symptoms and increased happiness when using cannabis, and some older studies indicate there is a potential for therapeutic use of cannabis.
At Growers Network, we always recommend speaking with your physician or psychiatrist first if you are considering using cannabis to treat a condition. However, based on our research, we can’t really make a statement that recommends or doesn’t recommend cannabis for bipolar disorder.
Frankly, more research needs to be done to figure out the mechanisms by which cannabis and bipolar disorder interact. There is little research on how different cannabinoids affect bipolar disorder (IE THC vs CBD), and much of the research that is available is correlational, not causational (in other words, not clinical studies). Should you choose to self-medicate with cannabis, do so with a word of caution that the science is not clear.
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About the Author
Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.