Marijuana and Bipolar: Is It an Effective Treatment?

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If you have bipolar disorder and are considering the use of marijuana, it's important that you understand the effects that this can have. Marijuana and bipolar often go hand in hand. But this doesn't mean that this drug is an effective treatment option.

Cannabis and bipolar can be a harmful combination, potentially causing bipolar symptoms to worsen. Marijuana users also run the risk of developing substance use disorder. Therefore, it's important to consider these factors before deciding to use marijuana for bipolar disorder.

Marijuana and Bipolar Symptom Worsening

There is some evidence connecting marijuana and bipolar symptom worsening. This research shows that cannabis use in people with psychosis is associated with an earlier onset of the first psychotic episode. It's also associated with manic symptoms and difficulty thinking.

In one study, patients who quit or reduced marijuana use following their first psychotic episode had the greatest symptom improvement at the one-year mark when compared to regular cannabis users. Long-term cannabis use may also have a negative effect on long-term clinical outcomes for those with bipolar spectrum disorders.

A 2015 study even found that current cannabis users (those who used it three times a week or more) had lower bipolar disorder remission rates when compared to non-users. This study, which lasted two years, concluded that regular marijuana users with bipolar don't do as well long-term as people not using this drug.

Another study looked at the short-term effects of marijuana and bipolar and concluded that the drug was associated with both manic and depressive symptoms. Additionally, the greater the drug's ability to create a positive effect, the more likely it was that the person would engage in cannabis use.

None of these studies prove that cannabis actually causes issues in people with bipolar, but more so that there is an association between marijuana and bipolar symptoms or reduced remission. Factoring this information into your decision to use cannabis for bipolar is important.

Substance Abuse Risk With Marijuana Use

All drugs have risks and side effects, and cannabis is no exception. By using marijuana to self-medicate for bipolar disorder, you run the risk of gaining a second diagnosis: substance use disorder.

A 25-year study reveals that substance use disorder is prevalent among those with bipolar. This prevalence is higher for males than females, and co-occurring substance use disorder and bipolar disorder have been connected with earlier age of onset and a higher number of hospitalizations.

Substance use disorder involves spending a lot of time using the substance, failed efforts to quit, and experiencing withdrawal when stopping its use. Other criteria include experiencing physical, psychological, social, or interpersonal problems as a result of substance use.

Almost three in 10 marijuana users will develop cannabis use disorder. When the person with cannabis use disorder also has bipolar, it can have additional negative consequences. This is due, in part, to cannabis use disorder being linked to higher levels of medication nonadherence in people with bipolar disorder.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Medical Marijuana and Bipolar

To be fair, not all research has found negative effects of marijuana for bipolar. For instance, one small-scale study found that, for some people with bipolar, marijuana helped partially relieve their clinical symptoms (and without additional cognitive impairment).

The issue is that more comprehensive evidence of marijuana being beneficial for bipolar is lacking—even in cases of medical marijuana use. Plus, some health experts warn that states approving medical marijuana to treat disease often "overestimate the benefits of marijuana and understate the risks."

A Word From Verywell

Even if you feel that marijuana helps ease your bipolar symptoms, the negative effects of this drug must also be considered. When looked at as a whole, marijuana for bipolar may not be as helpful as it would initially appear.

Instead, sticking with bipolar treatments that have been found effective according to research can provide a more positive outcome. This often includes a combination approach involving medications such as mood stabilizers and antipsychotics, along with psychosocial treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get a medical marijuana card for bipolar?

    Bipolar disorder is not a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana card under any state's law. While some propose medical marijuana for the treatment of certain health conditions, it's important to know that this can lead to negative effects for people with bipolar. In addition to potentially worsening your symptoms, it may also elevate your risk of cannabis use disorder.

  • Are there side effects from using marijuana to treat bipolar?

    Self-medicating with marijuana for bipolar can increase your risk of substance abuse. Marijuana has also been connected with the earlier onset of bipolar disorder and an increased risk of suicide attempts. Thus, treating bipolar with marijuana can have major negative consequences and effects.

  • What are the most effective treatments for bipolar?

    Bipolar disorder can often be treated with a combination of medications and psychological therapies. Your healthcare provider can help find the best bipolar treatments for you based on your condition and situation.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Marcia Purse
Marcia Purse is a mental health writer and bipolar disorder advocate who brings strong research skills and personal experiences to her writing.