Cannabis and Bipolar: The Medical Marijuana Question

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Back in January, I posted Marijuana for Bipolar: Treatment or Self-Medication. This is a topic well worth revisiting.


    In my earlier piece, I framed the topic this way: 


    I’m all for legalizing the drug, but this is an entirely different issue than endorsing its use for treating mania or easing stress. 


    This snippet from a response to a reader query accurately reflects my position four years ago:


    In my experience, people I have encountered saying they use pot to control their bipolar are lying, mainly to themselves. In fact, they are pot heads in denial and I would have a lot more respect for them if they admitted it.

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    And this:


    All that pot offers is what any street drug or alcohol offers. It very quickly lifts you out of your current state of mind into one that you perceive is better. If your life is that pathetic to start with, the answer is to work on improving your life, not escaping into drugs.


    David, in a comment, immediately took me to task:


    It's really funny how people who have never experienced mentally what I go through on a day to day basis can use their knowledge that they have learned from doctors and anti-drug organizations but yet really have no clue what they are talking about and that is obvious from your statement.


    He went on to say:


    If I told you that lithium is the best bipolar medication you would have no problem accepting that, but did you know how damaging that medication is to a person's kidneys, heart, and thyroid glands but its ok.


    David informed me that he regularly uses marijuana with his prescription meds. Otherwise, “I would be sitting on my couch as a zombie.”


    As always, the collective wisdom here at HealthCentral is the best authority. GJ, in response to my January piece, neatly captures this:


    Each person has medications that work, don't work, or have severe side effects.  Why wouldn't it be the same with grass? I believe it can bring significant relief to some. ...


    The only thing I would add to GJ’s comment is that a med not working or having bad side effects is not the only thing we need to worry about. We also have to be very concerned about meds making our condition worse, such as antidepressants (which may induce mania and speed up cycling). Likewise we have to worry about the right drug for the right situation being put to very wrong uses (such as full-strength anti-mania meds to treat or prevent hypomania).


    I have written extensively on these concerns here at HealthCentral and elsewhere. We need to be smart. Thus, applying the same cautionary reasoning: We need to be aware that there is a risk of cannabis bringing on psychosis. We need to be especially mindful that over-reliance on marijuana may turn a person with a treatable bipolar condition into a person with a virtually untreatable dual-diagnosis condition.


    But let’s not kid ourselves - we’re talking about one of the worst illnesses on this planet, where chemical intervention can save lives and get us back on track. Last week, I wrote about the excruciating hell of psychic pain and how I lost a good friend to suicide. Trust me, if I could have sat down with my friend and shared a joint that fateful night I would not have hesitated.


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    Your views greatly appreciated. Comments below ...

Published On: September 22, 2012