Medical Marijuana for Bipolar? One User's Experience
This is the fourth and final (for now) installment in our series on medical marijuana for bipolar. To briefly recap:
We can make a conditional case for treating bipolar with small doses of marijuana, where getting high is not the object. In most cases we are looking for a safe way to slow down the brain in order to manage our lives. We need to be mindful of the risks, especially of abusing the drug. (See first piece.)
These risks vs benefits are similar to prescribed medications. (See second piece.)
The endocannabinoid system that marijuana acts on plays a major role in modulating a great many brain and body processes. We do not tamper with this system lightly. By the same token, the system offers great potential for therapeutic interventions. (See third piece.)
Okay, let’s hear from someone who has had experience using marijuana to treat her bipolar. In response to my first piece, Karmakitten wrote:
Being bipolar just isn't fun. Face it, we are pharma guinea pigs. Every drug has side effects. We balance it out the best we can - the pros and cons of each drug we are prescribed. Some things just suck more than others, to put it simply.
Karmakitten has smoked or ingested or inhaled vaporized marijuana for a good long while. She has also been on psychiatric meds. Last year, she went off the marijuana to see how she would do. She is living in a state where marijuana is illegal and expensive.
The results were not at all good: “Hypomania/mania with poor decision-making. Functionality decreased, mixed states intermittently.” Plus bad sleep. Seroquel turned her into a zombie and needed to be stopped.
She expected her cognitive function and memory to improve, but she thinks the Effexor and Klonopin and Abilify she is on had a major role in that not happening.
As Karmakitten described it: “It sucked. It truly sucked.”
Time to get back on the marijuana. With her psychiatrist in the loop, Karmakitten started taking an ingestible dose of an indica variety every day at 9 PM. All cannabis is sativa, but users distinguish between indica and sativa. The former induces more of a sedating effect, the latter more of an uplifting effect.
Results: “A balance has been found.” Karmakitten reports an “incredible” decrease in mania and hypomania and poor decision-making. Her motivation, though, is down, which she and her psychiatrist are trying to figure out. She is guessing that maybe the motivation she experienced in mania/hypomania was not her true normal.
This, she says, is the only drawback. Her short-term memory is no worse off. More important: “A sense of well-being has returned to my life. I am OK. Even my psychiatrist is pleased. He'd never admit it though - sigh.”
From Karmakitten’s story, it is clear that her intent is to settle her over-active brain rather than get high. Had she taken the drug in the morning, she may have felt too cognitively slowed down to adequately function. An evening dose is a different story.
When she wakes up, she most likely feels - more accurately, she hardly feels - the residual effects of the ingestible indica still in her system. These residual effects seem to equate to a clinical effect that works for her. She can face the day with a quieter brain.
Other people may have different strategies, but it is clear from Karmakitten’s story that we need to explore the residual effects strategy.
Karmakitten is the first to acknowledge her improvement is conditional, and that research is totally lacking. As she puts it:
This is just my personal experience. I'll continue things as they are till they no longer work for me. Then I will decide what to change, whether it be go off marijuana or change medications. Bipolar is tricky stuff to balance out.
Okay, before you get a medical marijuana card and rush down to the dispensary: Karmakitten is the model of an expert patient, with considerable insight and self-awareness, one who takes the initiative managing her condition, in a responsible fashion.
It’s a shame that she has to break the law to get access to a treatment that works for her. The shame is on state and federal legal systems, not her.
Please do not interpret this piece as an endorsement of medical marijuana for treating bipolar. As with any agent used for medical purposes - pharma or natural - marijuana isn’t for everyone and clearly carries risks. Please read the previous articles in the series, then do your own research.
What we are looking for is an open dialogue. Please feel free to share your story.
In the meantime, I love happy (if conditional) endings. Karmakitten concludes: “For now I feel pretty normal, I'm happy to say.”
Previous pieces in this series: