The jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of Cannabis in the treatment of bipolar disorder. If you are considering using cannabis to treat the symptoms of bipolar depression or episodes of mania, you must do as much research as you can before diving in. If you are already using Cannabis and have found it to be effective, share your knowledge online. While sharing your experience is merely anecdotal, it is still valuable to those who are considering Cannabis as a possible option for managing bipolar disorder symptoms.
If you have a loved one who is suffering from bipolar disorder, here are some facts you’ll want to know about the condition before considering treatment options:
The word, “bipolar,” suggests the idea of extreme opposites. It is a mood disorder that is all about super highs followed by super lows.
In some ways, the term, “manic-depressive disorder,” is a more accurate description of what happens to people with bipolar disorder. When they are euphoric, acting impulsively, taking dangerous risks, (such as going on big spending sprees and engaging in substance abuse), sleeping very little, and talking a lot faster than usual—this is the manic phase of the disorder.
At some point, there is a sudden and equally dramatic mood swing toward depression. This phase of the disorder was once called “manic depression.” People who were once wildly optimistic, and happily delusional, are now unable to care for themselves or think clearly. They will move slowly, sleep too much, eat very little, or overeat and gain weight. Often sufferers become so unhappy and detached that the risk of suicide is real.
Bipolar disorder does not look the same for all people suffering from this condition. Some people will have mood swings that are so erratic and extreme that it is obvious something is seriously wrong. Others, however, will experience “hypomania,” a milder form of mania. When they are depressed, they’ll seem sad but will continue to do their jobs, take care of their families, and lead seemingly normal lives. Sometimes symptoms appear abruptly and last for months, in other instances, the episodes of mania and bipolar depression occur at two-year intervals.
Scientists are still not sure what causes bipolar disorder. There are theories that include chemical imbalances in the brain and genetic abnormalities. Bipolar disorder, like many other medical conditions, seems to run in families. Risks are higher for people who have a parent or sibling with the disorder. Other theories suggest that traumatic events, severe stress, and drug and alcohol abuse may be causes for the onset of bipolar disorder.
Medical Treatment Plan for Bipolar Disorder
Lithium, a mood stabilizer, was the go-to treatment for bipolar disorder in the past. It is still widely used but, like many medications, has side effects such as stomach upset, mild hand tremors, and joint pain. Doctors may prescribe antipsychotics to manage manic episodes. Some patients report feeling like their emotions are “flat” or they may feel anxious.
Because each person with bipolar disorder experiences it differently, doctors may prescribe more than one drug. For example, some patients may have to take a combination of drugs to manage symptoms and must be careful about how each drug interacts with another.
Antidepressants do not work for people who have bipolar depression. In fact, antidepressants may make symptoms worse by throwing sufferers into an unending cycle of mania and depression.
If you are in treatment, the doctor may ask you to keep a diary of how you are feeling each day. Use the diary to track your eating habits, your sleep, important life events, and anything that may impact your mood. The goal is to ensure that the treatment you are receiving is effective. The doctor will change your medications and psychotherapy as needed.
Using Cannabis to Treat Bipolar Disorder
While the use of Cannabis has been linked to the onset of bipolar disorder in teens and to the worsening of mania or depression in adults, there are many people who say they feel better when using Cannabis to treat symptoms. Because bipolar disorder is a serious condition, trying Cannabis as treatment is not a go-it-alone process. In states, in which marijuana is legal, try to find a doctor who will be open-minded and respectful of your choices. You may be someone who isn’t willing to deal with the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
If you’ve already decided you want to use Cannabis to treat your bipolar disorder, here are some important points to consider:
Choose a strain that is high in cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has a calming effect on the brain and is best used when you feel the first signs of a manic episode. CBD dominant strains also help combat bipolar depression. Animal studies indicate that CBD works quickly and more effectively than standard antidepressants. It also has strong antipsychotic properties.
A strain that is high Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound of Cannabis that triggers a “high,” is not recommended during the manic phase or if you experience psychotic episodes.
Before taking Cannabis to manage your symptoms, try to find a compassionate medical practitioner who is willing to hear why you want to add Cannabis to your treatment plan. Remember, that no one treatment, including Lithium, will work effectively by itself. If possible, try to follow a holistic approach that includes traditional medicine, psychotherapy, and alternative treatments, like Cannabis. You may find that a lot of doors close when you speak to medical doctors about Cannabis. Have patience, do your homework, and be persistent.
There are no shortcuts or miracle cures for bipolar disorder. Acceptance and understanding are two of the first steps you must take to face the challenges associated with this condition. By maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a diary, and sticking to a strict daily schedule, you reduce the stresses that can bring on a manic episode or bipolar depression.
Lastly, do not use the information in this article as a replacement for medical advice.