The introduction of medical marijuana in Canada changed how many of us view what effective medicine should be. And while medical marijuana undoubtedly helps ease physical symptoms, what can it do for the mental health of those with bipolar disorder?
Have you ever heard of someone moody referred to as bipolar? It’s a common term, but the condition is a lot more complicated than our use of language may suggest.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness characterized by periods of depression or low mood followed by periods of mania and heightened mood. Bipolar disorder can lead to significant shifts in mood and emotions over days or weeks and can go from extreme lows to extreme highs.
There are many kinds of bipolar disorder, and they include unipolar disorder, bipolar 1 and 2, and cyclothymia. Identification of the condition is crucial, as those afflicted could potentially harm themselves and sometimes be at risk of suicide if left untreated.
There is currently no outright cure for bipolar disorder, but many conventional treatments include lithium salts, antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, and benzodiazepines. All of these have side effects, and depending on the variety of bipolar disorder a patient has, the effectiveness of a given treatment can vary considerably.
But what about medical marijuana? Can it help treat and alleviate bipolar symptoms?
The Case for Cannabis in Treating Bipolar Disorder
The use of medical marijuana in Canada is prevalent, and its use among bipolar patients is higher than average. Many of those using it to treat bipolar symptoms do so for its well-documented ability to relieve the depressive symptoms associated with the condition.
The ability of cannabis to lift mood and bring patients out of a depressive episode can induce a euphoric sensation that those who have bipolar disorder are often drawn to. There is a reason why people with bipolar disorder have long relied on this plant for medicinal benefit.
Then there’s also the sedative effects at the opposite end of the spectrum. While depressive features are common, bipolar patients can also experience a mania that’s almost too intense. The sedative effects of medical marijuana can be equally as useful in helping them regain balance in both directions.
On paper, cannabis seems like the ideal form of medication. But what does science say?
Medical Marijuana in Canada and Bipolar Disorder: The Science
The available science falls on both sides of the fence regarding how effective medical marijuana is in treating bipolar disorder. Let’s take a look at both sets of findings.
Low Mental Impairment and Improved Mood
A study published in 2016 found that those affected by bipolar disorder who use medical marijuana are less inclined to feel mentally impaired than those who go without. Researchers found no evidence that participants suffered from any adverse effects on thinking and memory and claimed that many reported experiencing improved mood.
Another study found that medical marijuana enabled a more positive outlook among those affected by bipolar disorder. Researchers in the study also commented that subjects were more inclined to use cannabis when they were already experiencing an elevated mood as opposed to when their symptoms were more depressive.
When Marijuana Worsens the Symptoms
Bipolar disorder is a complex condition, and researchers have found that medicinal marijuana can worsen symptoms in some instances. A review published in 2015 found that marijuana can increase manic symptoms and even trigger a manic episode in those affected. Another study found that marijuana use can increase depressive symptoms in certain people.
The Complexity of Cannabis and Bipolar Disorder
Just like bipolar disorder, cannabis is also complex. It can affect perfectly healthy people in very different ways. Where some feel euphoric and relaxed after consuming marijuana, others may feel anxiety or paranoia.
If you’re considering using medical marijuana to treat and manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder, then understanding the myriad of potential factors is an important first step.
How Genetics Influence the Effectiveness of Medical Marijuana
Research shows that one of the reasons for the variation in response to medical marijuana involves our genetic predisposition. Those with a specific mutation of the AKT1 gene have an increased likelihood of experiencing psychotic episodes when consuming cannabis.
THC vs CBD For Bipolar Disorder
THC and CBD are the two principal cannabinoids found in medical marijuana. Both can elicit very different effects, but which is best for managing bipolar disorder?
In one study, researchers found that subjects with bipolar disorder were more likely to experience adverse mood responses when consuming strains that were extremely high in THC. Those who consumed strains high in CBD exhibited different effects, with studies showing CBD to be much more beneficial in alleviating symptoms by increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
In the worst-case scenario, THC can elicit anxiety and paranoia among some people, even among those unaffected by bipolar disorder. CBD, on the other hand, has a very different set of effects. With a lack of psychoactive symptoms, it’s effects are much more sedating and much less intense.
The strain is also an important factor when it comes to the effects produced by the plant. Whether it’s Sativa leaning or Indica leaning can make a huge difference, but the available science doesn’t provide conclusive evidence either way.
Medical Marijuana in Canada
With its multipronged approach to wellness, and an ability to sedate and induce euphoria, cannabis may seem like the ideal substance to help modulate a healthy mood in those who have bipolar disorder. But the evidence isn’t clear either way on the benefits. While there’s little doubt that many patients can benefit from it, it’s equally important to note that science can’t endorse it either way.
The suitability of cannabis in the treatment of bipolar disease depends on a variety of factors unique to the individual. The factors that determine our response to cannabis vary widely from genetics to existing medications and lifestyle choices.
But while science is trying to understand the underlying reasons for the diversity in its effects, there’s little doubt that cannabis shows excellent promise in the treatment of mental health going forward.