Bipolar Disorder and Cannabis

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental disorder which is characterized by rapid changes between manic state and a depressed one. During a manic state the patient may feel excessively happy or energetic and the ability to make a thought out decision is reduced. In a depressive state the patient displays the traditional symptoms of depression such as reduced energy, desire to avoid contact with people and loss of interest in hobbies or work. People with bipolar disorder often find that how they feel changes on a dime without an obvious cause. The main danger with bipolar disorder is the increased risk of self harm or suicidal actions as a result of the depressive state.

While the causes of bipolar disorder isn’t well understood the leading theory is it is brought on by a combination of upbringing, long term stress or other environmental factors. Genes and heredity also may play a small role in how susceptible someone is to developing bipolar disorder. The disorder itself is divided into two classes; bipolar disorder I is diagnosed when someone experiences at least one manic episode. Bipolar disorder II is much more serious as the patient experiences what’s called a hypomanic episode. Hypomanic episodes are defined as a period of unexplained happiness and energy that is accompanied by a psychotic episode. These are a particularly scary of bipolar disorder II that includes hallucinations and suicidal thoughts or actions.

The main medication used in the treatment of bipolar disorder is lithium. Lithium is a mood stabilizer that helps smooth out the highs and lows of the disorder. Other medications that are used are carbamazepine and sodium valproate. Side effects of Lithium range from an increased need to urinate or excessive thirst to hair loss and hypothyroidism. Carbamazepine has a few more serious side effects such as aplastic anemia (a disease where the bone marrow and blood stem cells are damaged) to increased risk of suicide. The major risk with this medication is an increased risk of seizures if the medication is halted abruptly. Common side effects are drowsiness and headaches as well as migraines. Patients may also suffer motor coordination issues such as loss of ability to grip an object firmly.

According to a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research, a peer reviewed journal, showed that cannabis had some benefits for people with bipolar disorder. The study was limited to patients with type I bipolar disorder. Over nine years the researchers located fifty people who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had a history of cannabis use and 150 without a history of use. Participants were tested for cognitive ability and there was a recognized pattern of “superior cognitive functioning in the group” with a history of cannabis usage. They concluded that people who suffer with bipolar disorder and use cannabis performed better on the tests that were administered.

Given the risk of modern medication the option for a natural alternative is a welcome one. Cannabis has been proven to improve functioning of patients suffering from bipolar disorder I.

Research paper on medical cannabis and bipolar disorder: http://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781%2812%2900300-9/abstract
Info on bipolar disorder: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml