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Manic depression is a common nickname for bipolar depression. Treating bipolar disorder is a difficult task. Each and every patient presents a different set of symptoms and responds differently to treatments. Thankfully, in the last few years diagnoses of these conditions have improved and so have the treatments available. Currently, many of the drugs available for treating bipolar disorders have some horrible side effects, from men growing breasts to having intrusive suicidal thoughts. The highs and lows of the condition make it difficult to regulate with drugs. This is because most drugs make the person feel flat most of the time. This does away with the extreme highs and lows but can make normal day to day living an unpleasant or unsatisfying experience.
For this reason, lots of people are rejecting the current methods of treatment and seeking alternatives. Experimentation with psilocybin, LSD or other psychoactives has become more mainstream in recent years as the stigma of these drugs is reduced and real science is being undertaken to establish their effectiveness. One of the most hopeful is cannabis. The hundreds of millions of people who regularly consume cannabis will be aware that it can help with some mental problems (it is often why people take it), but there is increasing amounts of good scientific evidence to back up this view.
In the past, there was only anecdotal evidence and the occasional, poorly administered study into the effects of medical marijuana and manic depression. Since the legalization and decriminalization in some parts of the Western world, medical cannabis has been more open to study, and has been found to be effective against conditions as varied as acne, some forms of mental illness, and epilepsy.
Bipolar disorders are characterized by both manic and depressive symptoms including, but not limited to:
There are several different types of bipolar disorders. You can learn all about them here.
To be clear, this is more than the regular ups and downs that most people experience through life. Often there is a trigger, but more often there does not need to be an event to send a person into crushing depression in a number of hours, or excite a manic period that can last for days or weeks. Traumatic or life changing events can set off the symptoms, but the condition is related to the chemistry and wiring of the brain, so it’s not actually caused by external factors.
If it was not already obvious, this can make normal functioning extremely difficult. Work can be impossible, attending school or college is extremely difficult when on a high or a low, maintaining healthy relationships is made much more difficult. None of this is the fault of the person with bipolar disorder but the consequences are very real.
The depressive episodes of bipolar disorder are the most common state to experience, and for this reason it can be misdiagnosed as another form of depression very easily. Drugs used to treat depression could have severely unintended results if the person can also experience manic episodes. It is vital, therefore, to get a good diagnosis before exploring treatment.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorders
Usually, a combination of talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medications such as SSRI’s, antipsychotics or anticonvulsants is the method of treatment. Unfortunately, they are often not effective. When drugs are used to treat the depressive states, they can make manic phases less severe but normal functioning very difficult. For some, the side effects of the drugs is as bad as the condition itself.
The long term safety records of drugs like lithium or olanzapine are poor. They cannot be taken for more than a few months or years without severe side effects. Lithium is literally poisonous and has ruined many people’s brains. Quetiapine is effective for many patients but has a sedative effect, making doing many jobs impossible. It affects the memory and cognitive function in a negative way. Furthermore, when patients can no longer take the drug they often suffer withdrawal symptoms, illness and find that their bipolar is as bad or worse than before
It was thought for a long time that cannabis use was very damaging if you had a form of bipolar disorder, but there was very little actual research to back up this claim. At the same time, the anecdotal evidence suggesting the effectiveness of medical cannabis on bipolar disorder has been very encouraging. Finally, the science is catching up. Some studies say one thing, others say another. The main issue here is that none of the studies have been big enough or of a high enough standard to really be consequential.
However, one thing which has emerged from research is the understanding that cannabis and the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have sedative and antidepressant effects, so it is useful for both the manic and the depressive phases. A study concluded “Therefore whilst manic, individuals may use cannabis for the sedative effects and when depressed for the antidepressant effects.” This seems like great news for patients with bipolar disorder.
The quality of these studies conducted is questionable at best. They are usually very small cohort (sample size) investigations, sometimes lacking controls and usually without double-blind controls. This limits their usefulness for applying to populations as a whole, so the question remains mostly open as to the effects of medical marijuana and manic depression.
Medical marijuana and manic depression could be an effective pairing, or it could be disastrous. Cannabis does not affect everybody in the same way. It has extremely positive effects on some, and very negative ones on others. Most of the time, it is very well tolerated and has an excellent safety record, especially when ingested and not smoked.
Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, is a very serious mental health condition that hugely reduces a person’s quality of life, for life. Mania and depression can make normal, day to day functioning nearly impossible. This is why it’s so vital that we find a mood stabilizing drug and treatment plan which will allow for living a full and happy life with as few negative effects as possible. There is certainly reason to believe that medical cannabis could be that drug. But not enough is known yet to draw any conclusions.