Photo: Norman Posselt/Getty Images
There is much anecdotal evidence from people with bipolar disorder to suggest that using cannabis is beneficial for symptoms of this condition. However, scientists are not so sure.
Certain studies show that cannabis can worsen bipolar disorder symptoms. However, other research suggests cannabis can improve some symptoms of bipolar, such as attention and memory, while negatively affecting others. For example, the substance has associations with higher levels of manic and depressive episodes.
Keep reading for a closer look at the evidence for cannabis as a treatment for bipolar disorder. This article also explores other medical uses for cannabis and alternative approaches for managing bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it causes shifts in:
People with bipolar disorder can have manic episodes where they feel elated and energized for periods. They may also have depressive episodes where they feel sad, indifferent, or hopeless. The shift between the two can be extreme.
People with the condition may also experience delusions and hallucinations.
Around 4.4% of adults in the United States experience the condition at some point in the lives. Its exact cause is unknown, although it appears to stem from a combination of environmental, biological, and genetic factors.
Learn more about bipolar disorder here.
Many people with bipolar disorder use cannabis to manage and treat their symptoms. Anecdotally, many reports claim the substance is beneficial, although the scientific evidence remains unclear.
The cannabis plant comprises more than 500 chemical compounds. These include delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which are the most well-known of these cannabinoids.
THC is responsible for the “high” that many people associate with cannabis use, while CBD is gaining popularity as an alternative treatment for numerous conditions, including some mental health issues.
It is also worth noting that many studies investigating the effect of cannabis on bipolar disorder have focused on the use of THC.
There have been numerous studies on the link between bipolar disorder and cannabis. These studies feature in a 2017 review from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI).
The report found a link between cannabis use and the following health issues:
The report also highlighted a 2015 study, which found that people with bipolar disorder who used cannabis were less likely to go into remission for their condition than those who did not.
In addition, an older study from 2011 found that people with bipolar disorder who engaged in problematic cannabis use had higher levels of disability and more manic, depressive, and psychotic symptoms.
Not all the studies into the effects of cannabis on bipolar disorder have been negative. A small 2016 pilot study asked people with the condition to rate their feelings after using the substance. Within 4 hours of using the drug, people reported the following:
Other studies suggest cannabis can improve brain function in people with bipolar disorder. An older study from 2010, which looked at 133 people with the condition, stated that the participants who used cannabis had improved:
However, the ADAI report concluded there was more evidence of negative effects of cannabis on bipolar disorder than positive ones.
It is also worth remembering that the risks of cannabis use include:
Learn more about the positive and negative effects of cannabis here.
Many U.S. states have legalized cannabis for medical use. Some doctors recommend the substance to treat mental health conditions such as:
However, the patient advocacy group Mental Health America warn that the evidence supporting this recommendation mainly comes from anecdotal reports and animal studies. Therefore, researchers need to conduct more studies before drawing firm conclusions about the effects of cannabis use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC does have medical benefits when used in certain medicines.
For example, healthcare professionals use dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet) to treat nausea in people who undergo chemotherapy. These same drugs can stimulate appetite in those with wasting syndromes related to AIDS.
In Canada, the United Kingdom, and some European countries, doctors can prescribe nabiximols (Sativex). It is a mouth spray containing THC and CBD, which can help people with the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Learn more about cannabis and multiple sclerosis here.
In the U.S., doctors can recommend a CBD-based liquid medication called Epidiolex for two forms of severe childhood epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Recently, scientists have investigated whether CBD can help with bipolar disorder.
CBD is usually an oil that manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies extract from the cannabis plant. Depending on the method to grow the plant and the extraction process, CBD may contain varying amounts of THC.
Currently, health experts cannot confirm if CBD helps those with bipolar disorder. For example, a small 2020 study found that some participants’ bipolar symptoms improved after using the substance. However, other individuals saw no difference.
Researchers need to conduct more studies before they can conclude that CBD is safe and can help those with bipolar disorder.
Learn more about the uses and benefits of CBD oil here.
Many supplements and remedies claim to help people manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, scientists have found limited evidence to support them, so most people with the condition need to take medication.
Despite this, there are many ways for individuals to ease their symptoms. A person can monitor their symptoms to learn the triggers that can worsen them.
Factors that can exacerbate bipolar disorder symptoms are different for everyone, but they may include stress, seasonal changes, or a lack of sleep. These are things that people may be able to manage with natural remedies and certain behaviors, such as maintaining an active, healthy daily routine.
People with bipolar disorder may wish to try the following:
It is also vital that people continue to take their medications — do not stop or skip doses unless advised to do so by a healthcare professional.
Learn more about some natural remedies for bipolar disorder here.
Many people with bipolar disorder use cannabis to treat their symptoms. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support its use.
However, while there is small scientific evidence to support the efficacy of cannabis to treat bipolar disorder, some studies conclude the substance may, in fact, worsen symptoms.
Some people also use cannabis to treat other mental health disorders, but there is limited evidence on its effectiveness.
Individuals should consult with a doctor before using cannabis to treat bipolar disorder, as there are some potential risks associated with the drug.