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If you or someone you love has bipolar disorder, you will likely be familiar with the highs and lows this disorder can lead to. These frequent mood swings can easily make day-to-day life difficult for anyone, and people suffering from them often explore different ways to control them. One of the newer modalities that many have been tempted to try to control their bipolar disorder is the use of marijuana, also known as weed or cannabis.
As one of the most commonly abused drugs worldwide, marijuana is the substance of choice for many teenagers and adults to get high and feel euphoric. However, anecdotal evidence has now suggested it possesses medicinal properties that supposedly heal various mental health issues, including bipolar disorder. Is marijuana and bipolar disorder a good combination? To get an answer to this question, evaluating this substance’s effects on mental health is imperative.
An Overview of Bipolar Disorder
According to surveys, up to 3 percent of people across the United States have bipolar disorder. This chronic, complex mental health illness includes dramatic shifts in mood, including deeply depressive episodes and manic states. This mood stability is a hallmark of bipolar disorder and typically cycles from one emotion to another. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder also commonly develop psychosis, including symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. This mood stability, along with other symptoms of bipolar disorder, can lead to unique challenges during treatment, forcing a person to turn to cannabis or weed for relief.
Following are the common symptoms that occur during a manic phase in a person with bipolar disorder:
- Feeling overly energized
- Inability to keep up with work and school responsibilities
- Constant feelings of boredom, restlessness, or distraction
- Difficulty making sensible decisions
- Feeling invincible and powerful
- Increased sexual interest
- Lack of fatigue despite lack of sleep
- Extreme sociability
- Elevated self-esteem
- Fast, excessive talking
- High self-confidence
- Inability to identify issues with behavior
- Racing ideas and thoughts
- Increased engagement in risky behaviors, such as uncontrollable speeding and substance use
Depressive episodes during a bipolar attack can lead to the following symptoms in a person:
- Unexplained physical pain
- Deep feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and despair
- Sleep-related issues
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Chronic anxiety or guilty feelings about minor events
- Loss of interest in activities
- Appetite changes, resulting in weight loss or gain
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Irritable mood
- Problems with cognitive function, such as thinking, focus, and remembering
- Problems in work and school
Bipolar and Weed Use: Research Supporting the Combination
Since marijuana is known to have anxiety-busting effects, many people believe that it can help individuals with underlying bipolar disorder improve their moods. Following are some other positive effects to expect with the combination of bipolar and cannabis use:
Better Moods and Low Mental Impairment
A study performed in 2016 found that individuals with an underlying bipolar disorder did not experience any prominent mental impairment while using marijuana compared to people who did not use this plant.  While critics strongly assume that the combination of marijuana and bipolar disorder can negatively affect a person’s memory and thinking, studies have found no evidence supporting it. Instead, these studies report that using cannabis can lead to better moods in such people.
A More Positive Outlook
Early studies performed in 2015 also found that the use of marijuana, in particular by people with a background of bipolar disorder, can not only enhance their mood but also instill a positive outlook in their minds.  However, researchers found that such people were more likely to use marijuana when they had a good day in terms of mood, not when their symptoms worsened.
It is imperative to remember that research regarding the benefits of marijuana and bipolar disorder management is limited and in its preliminary stages. Moreover, the substance affects each individual differently and may not positively benefit everyone.
Marijuana and Bipolar Disorder: Research Negating the Combination
Some researchers believe that using marijuana while experiencing bipolar disorder can worsen psychiatric illness’s symptoms significantly. Some findings of these studies include the following:
Worsening Bipolar Symptoms
Research from early 2015 suggests that using weed or marijuana can worsen the manic symptoms in a person with a background of bipolar disorder. Some studies also suggested that this substance can trigger a manic episode. Further digging into this relationship also led many experts to believe that weed can worsen depressive and manic symptoms in certain patients.
Higher Rate of Suicides
Research has found that suicide attempts in people with underlying bipolar disorder are higher in those who use marijuana than those who don’t rely on this substance.  Further studies found that marijuana users experienced an earlier onset of their first bipolar symptoms than those who never used the substance. This association led to significant concerns as experts believe that getting bipolar at an early age can worsen symptoms throughout an individual’s life. In terms of suicidal ideation, the effects of marijuana in people with bipolar disorder are not apparent; however, some people develop this tendency while taking weed to manage their psychiatric issues.
Marijuana and Bipolar Disorder Treatment: What Else Can You Rely On?
Living with bipolar disorder can be extremely hard, especially when a person is receiving treatment. While trying marijuana seems tempting, experts advise caution as it may not always benefit everyone. Instead, talking to a professional and engaging in the following treatments is recommended:
Experts recommend using one or more of the following groups of medication to manage bipolar disorder symptoms:
- Mood stabilizers
Therapy is one of the mainstays of treatment for bipolar disorder. A combination of the following types of therapy may potentially benefit a patient in terms of symptomatic management without putting them at any risks like marijuana use:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family-focused therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
In addition to professional help, experts also recommend incorporating the following self-help strategies in daily life to keep the symptoms of bipolar disorder under control:
- Mood tracking and journaling
- Sticking to treatment plans, even when symptoms are under control
- Establishing daily routines and following them
- Relying on support groups
- Creating a safety plan for a crisis
- Stress-relief activities
Bipolar and Cannabis: Is it a Safe Combination?
Experts do not have enough research to conclusively say whether marijuana can help manage bipolar disorder or only worsen its symptoms. Some people report experiencing positive symptoms, such as mood improvement, but many others have adverse effects, including suicidal thoughts and worsening mania. Further research is required to check the effects of marijuana on bipolar disorder and assess the results of its long-term use.
Most doctors agree that weed may not be as effective as prescription medicines or therapy options for bipolar disorder. Hence, even if you wish to consider using marijuana as a trial to see how it affects you, do not stop following the treatment plan suggested by a doctor. It is also a good idea to discuss with a doctor about the medical use of marijuana and assess its pros and cons. If you decide to use it, keep your doctor in the loop about how it affects you.
Can weed cause bipolar disorder?
While not much evidence exists regarding the possibility of weed use causing bipolar disorder, some experts believe that using this substance can lead to an earlier onset of the psychiatric disorder in vulnerable people.
Is cannabis used in treating any mental health disorders?
Following the legalization of marijuana in different states across the U.S., some experts recommend it to treat the following mental health issues:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
Can I use marijuana for depression and bipolar disorder?
While many people have been using marijuana for depression and bipolar disorder, experts warn that the recommendation of using marijuana to treat these issues mainly comes from anecdotal evidence and animal studies. Hence, more research is needed to conclude the use of cannabis in treating mental health disorders.
1 Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Racine MT, Dreman MW, Olson DP, Gruber SA. Joint effects: a pilot investigation of the impact of bipolar disorder and marijuana use on cognitive function and mood. PLoS One. 2016 Jun 8;11(6):e0157060.
2 Tyler E, Jones S, Black N, Carter LA, Barrowclough C. The relationship between bipolar disorder and cannabis use in daily life: an experience sampling study. PloS one. 2015 Mar 4;10(3):e0118916.
3 Leite RT, Nogueira SD, Nascimento JP, Lima LS, Nóbrega TB, Virgínio MD, Moreno LM, Sampaio BH. The use of cannabis as a predictor of early onset of bipolar disorder and suicide attempts. Neural plasticity. 2015 May 13;2015.