Cannabis For Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder characterized by extreme mood swings ranging from depression to manic behavior. It’s one of the oldest known illnesses in the world. Bipolar disorder is a serious condition because it’s known to cause risky behavior among patients, some as extreme as suicidal tendencies. The unusual and unpredictable mood swings make it difficult for patients to carry out normal daily tasks.
There are 4 kinds of bipolar disorder although they all have certain things in common: changes in energy, mood, and activity levels. The changes in mood, referred to as mood episodes, cause patients to suffer from difficulty sleeping as well as all the unusual behaviors.
People suffering from bipolar disorder have to rely on pharmaceutical medications in order to control their mood swings and other symptoms, combined with psychotherapy. Despite this, feelings of depression and manic episodes still tend to return occasionally. However, medications prescribed to people with bipolar disorder such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants tend to produce unwanted side effects such as weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, trembling, increased thirst, and drowsiness.
How Can Cannabis Help?
Cannabis can be beneficial to patients of bipolar disorder because it helps to regulate the endocannabinoid system. Some of the cannabinoids found in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, have mood-stabilizing properties that can benefit people with mental and emotional disorders.
Studies show that THC can fight anxiety, depression, and manic episodes. These properties resulted in improved mood and general well-being in the participants who suffered from pain, MS, and cancer. CBD can negate the psychoactive effects brought about by THC and it also contains anticonvulsant, anti-anxiety, and anti hypnotic properties. Researchers also discovered a link between cannabis use and cognitive improvements in patients of schizophrenia, which can explain similar improvements in people with bipolar disorder.
A 2010 study at the University of Oslo in Norway analyzed the effects of cannabis on 133 participants with bipolar disorder. They discovered that patients who regularly used cannabis performed better than those who didn’t, when they had to participate in verbal learning and fluency tests. Another study conducted in 2012 at New York’s Zucker Hillside Hospital showed that patients who regularly used cannabis had better levels of attention span, memory, and processing speed when tested among 200 bipolar patients over a span of 9 years.
The studies may be few and far in between, but they still have significant findings. A 1998 study published by James B. Bakalar and Dr. Lester Grinspoon, two Harvard professors, documented the results of 5 patients who got tremendous relief from bipolar disorder symptoms by using cannabis. A 47-year old woman and one of the patients said that cannabis was more helpful than pharmaceutical medications when it came to managing manic episodes. She said, “A few puffs of this herb and I can be calm… this drug seems harmless compared to other drugs I have tried, including tranquillisers and lithium.”
The husband of a bipolar patient also mentioned how cannabis was able to help his wife cope better with the illness. “My wife functions much better when she uses marijuana. When she is hypomanic, it relaxes her, helps her sleep, and slows her speech down. When she is depressed and would otherwise lie in bed all day, the marijuana makes her more active… Lithium is also effective, but it doesn’t always keep her in control”, he says.
These cases were also mentioned together with others in a 2005 study review by British researchers, which was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The researchers presented proof from a 1996 report discussing 5 cases where cannabis helped provide relief from depression. They also mentioned 2 surveys from 2003 which revealed that 15-27% of medical cannabis patients who were prescribed the plant for mood disorders including bipolar disorder as well as PTSD and depression.
However, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of cannabis for mood disorders; some patients find it helps them while others do not. Still, there are studies that reveal how cannabinoids can have therapeutic benefits for patients of bipolar disorder and there is significant anecdotal evidence which supports these claims. But because cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug, the mechanisms involved still haven’t been thoroughly explored.