If you are here to find out if cannabis can cure bipolar disorder, I have to disappoint you right away.
The definitive answer to that question does not exist because the relationship between marijuana and bipolar is probably the most complicated one I have researched so far.
There is no scientific consensus on whether cannabis is good for treating the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Even the experiences of patients are subjective and divided, where some hold on to the herb claiming it helps them on so many levels, and others stay the hell away from it because it made their symptoms worse when they tried it the first time.
I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I went on a hunt for studies exploring this topic and searched for opinions of people that suffer from this horrible condition.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression) is a mood disorder characterized by prolonged depressive periods which evolve into manic episodes of elevated mood.
Bipolar is an emotional rollercoaster, with exhausting ups and downs. But because its symptoms resemble other conditions and the disorder is still not nearly enough understood, it’s often a bit difficult to diagnose.
During the extended “depressed episode”, which lasts for at least two weeks, patients experience sadness and hopelessness, overwhelmed with the feeling that they won’t get better.
There are other symptoms of bipolar disorder that very much bear resemblance to depression, like a flux in sleeping patterns (both sleeping too much or too little), major changes in appetite (gaining, as well as losing weight), suicidal thoughts and trouble staying focused, lethargy, feelings like worthlessness, guilt and self-loathing.
In severe cases, patients may have delusions and hallucinations which are all symptoms of psychosis. As we previously learned, cannabis and psychosis don’t go along together at all, but we’ll get back to that later.
Manic periods are characterized by elevated, irritated mood, followed by unexplainable energy, impulsive behavior, rapid speech and unsettled thoughts, short attention span and distraction.
It’s still pretty much unclear what is the exact cause of this disorder, but certainly, some genetic, as well as environmental factors have an impact on developing bipolar, like trauma, stress and childhood abuse.
There are a few different types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I — having at least one prolonged manic episode, that lasts for at least a week. Patients diagnosed with this type also have depressed episodes, with dramatic mood changes.
- Bipolar II — having at least one depressive episode, without going to the full extremes of mania.
- Cyclothymia — sustained periods of hypomanic and depressive behaviors that don’t necessarily reach the heights of full manic or depressive episodes.
Treating bipolar disorder is a complex matter, and usually includes a combination of medications (mood stabilizers and antidepressants), psychotherapy and a change in lifestyle (added exercise for example).
Bipolar medications often produce side effects, like dizziness, weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, blurred vision, rash and dry mouth.
It’s no wonder why bipolar disorder usually leads to substance abuse, as a way of “self-medication”, which could perhaps be crucial for understanding this topic.
The research has shown that 61% of bipolar I and 48% of bipolar II patients tend to self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana. (1)
Is cannabis good or bad for bipolar disorder?
Unfortunately, there is no straight answer to this dilemma. Some patients find it useful for managing their symptoms, while others have quite an opposite opinion.
From what I’ve found, the research says that marijuana probably can’t cause bipolar disorder per se, but to some people, it can worsen the existing symptoms.
Because of the illicit nature of cannabis, we don’t have nearly enough research to say if this is is 100% true or not.
There have been a few studies trying to solve the mystery of the effect of cannabis on bipolar disorder. It’s surprising how findings tend to be contradictory.
According to a 2009 study by the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, marijuana can’t cause psychiatric disorders, but it can imitate the symptoms of such disorders. This same research concluded that marijuana use can be a risk factor for developing mental disorders, especially if an individual has (genetic) predispositions for such illnesses. (2)
And this is important to remember: THC, the most prevalent cannabinoid in the plant, is a psychoactive compound.
Individuals already suffering from mood disorders should use cannabis with caution, since weed can cause anxiety and paranoia when taken in high amounts.
The good news is that even when this happens it’s not a permanent condition. Weed-induced anxiety goes away as soon as the effects of marijuana wear off.
In this instance, however, these side-effects of cannabis can also be the underlying symptoms of bipolar disorder. So if a person has a bipolar disorder with mentioned symptoms, using cannabis is probably not a good idea.
On the other hand, there are studies that prove that marijuana can be very effective in treating both depression and anxiety. That’s probably why some bipolar patients enjoy the herb without experiencing those undesirable side effects. On the contrary, they feel more relaxed and calm.
Nonetheless, a 2012 research found a link between cannabis use and decreased psychotic threshold. This means, according to researchers, that marijuana can lower the turning point when a person starts having active psychotic symptoms. (3)
Marijuana still remains one of the most abused substances among the bipolar patients. It’s more than alarming once you find out 56% of bipolar patients have experienced a drug or alcohol addiction in their lifetime.
So, to conclude:
If you are experiencing psychotic symptoms, the best thing you could do for yourself would be to stay away from weed. If you have already tried it, and it makes you feel better without inducing psychotic episodes, it’s totally OK to keep enjoying it.
What bipolar patients have to say about their experience with cannabis?
When I write articles about cannabis use and different health conditions, I don’t like to rely only on the conclusions of research conducted in isolated conditions. I think that every individual is different, and what might work for one person might not necessarily be the best solution for someone else.
That’s why I love Reddit and prefer to read about patient’s experiences from the first hand.
So, I bumped into this thread and I think it explained exactly what I was talking about. Here are just a few comments, but feel free to research it yourself.
Best strains for bipolar disorder
As you can see in the comments above, some patients feel more comfortable using sativa strains during their “depressed period” since these strains boost energy and mood. However, sativas sometimes make patients anxious and uncomfortable.
It seems to me that it all depends on where you are at that point with your disorder. One way or another, do your research before buying weed and avoid strains that can make you feel paranoid (those would be high THC strains).
To help you get started I made a quick list of a few calming indicas, as well as energy-boosting sativas and hybrids that might help you deal with your condition.
Green Crack (Sativa)
Great for the “depressed period”, but should be taken with caution otherwise. Green Crack will give you more than enough energy and motivation to go about your things during the day, and not just lay around in your bed.
Northern Lights (Indica)
One of the most used strains for treating mood disorders, Northern Lights relaxes the body and mind, making it preferred choice for bipolar patients during the manic period. It will help you get enough sleep and even boost your appetite.
Blue Dream (Hybrid)
Suitable for both beginners and experienced users, Blue Dream’s high is mildly euphoric, which is why bipolar patients like to use it when they feel down. What makes this sativa-dominant hybrid one of the favorites among the medical users is that it sedates, but not heavily.
Sour Diesel (Sativa)
This sativa strain is great for daytime use and will provide you with increased focus and a boost in both creativity and productivity. Sour Diesel relieves depression and stress and the best thing about it is that its effects last long.
Bubba Kush (Indica)
During their manic episodes, Bipolar patients feel most comfortable with calming strains, like Bubba Kush. It will make your entire body and mind as calm as possible. But, because of its strong sedative effect novice users should take it with caution and in low doses.
As one of the best strains for depression, Cannatonic is a safe choice for Bipolar patients who suffer from depression. It will uplift your mood while relieving any underlying muscle tension. When Cannatonic starts to wear off, it brings forth the sleep you so desperately need.
Blue Cheese (Indica)
This indica is perfect when you feel like you just need to kick back and chill. Blue Cheese will relax your entire body, making you forget about the everyday stress and it will undoubtedly make you sleepy in the end.
Jack Herer (Sativa)
If you need a clear head, a stress-free day with loads of energy, Jack Herer is just the strain for you. Also, if you suffer from lack of appetite, this strain will just take care of that right away.
White Widow (Hybrid)
Bipolar patients enjoy this strain because it has it all: swipes away depression, helps get the appetite back, fights the pain, provides a boost of energy. White Widow should be your first choice when you need to increase productivity and energy levels.
- Ashton CH, Moore PB, Gallagher P, Young AH; Cannabinoids in bipolar affective disorder: a review and discussion of their therapeutic potential; Journal of Psychopharmacology; May 2005; 19(3): 293-300
- Khan MA, Akella S; Cannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features: A Case Report; Psychiatry (Edgemont); December 2009; 6(12): 44–48
- Bhattacharyya S, Crippa JA, Allen P, Martin-Santos R, Borgwardt S, Fusar-Poli P, Rubia K, Kambeitz J, O’Carroll C, Seal ML, Giampietro V, Brammer M, Zuardi AW, Atakan Z, McGuire PK; Induction of psychosis by Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol reflects modulation of prefrontal and striatal function during attentional salience processing; Archives of General Psychiatry; January 2012; 69(1):27-36
- Lev-Ran S, Le Foll B, McKenzie K, George TP, Rehm J; Bipolar disorder and co-occurring cannabis use disorders: characteristics, co-morbidities and clinical correlates; Psychiatry Research; October 2013; 209(3):459-65
- Lagerberg TV, Kvitland LR, Aminoff SR, Aas M, Ringen PA, Andreassen OA, Melle I; Indications of a dose-response relationship between cannabis use and age at onset in bipolar disorder; Psychiatry Research; January 2014; 215(1):101-4