Does Marijuana Help or Hurt People With Bipolar Disorder?

byPerry Solomon, MD2 minutes

Cannabis is used to manage so many conditions that it's only natural to wonder if it can help people with bipolar disorder. The answer is still unclear. While some people have said it does help them manage their bipolar symptoms, new research suggests that cannabis use actually makes certain symptoms worse. Here's more about those findings and what they mean for people dealing with bipolar disorder.

Study Finds Some Bipolar Symptoms Worse With Cannabis Use

In 2015, the U.K.'s Lancaster University conducted a study that concluded that cannabis use makes some bipolar symptoms worse. In particular, it claimed that depression and mania were made worse by cannabis. That finding has surprised many people, because doctors have recommended medical marijuana for some patients with bipolar disorder due to its ability to help with cognitive functioning.

During the study, 24 people with bipolar disorder used cannabis at least three times per week and then recorded their mood in a special diary. This method is called the experience sampling method, or ESM, and it's meant to reduce the risk of memory bias as patients report their mood.

The diary entries were analyzed and then properly modified to account for age, sex and the use of other types of drugs before drawing any conclusions. The results showed that the use of cannabis often led to more positive feelings, but they accompanied more manic and depressive symptoms, too.

It should be noted that the people who were involved in the study used the marijuana when they were experiencing positive emotions, not right after a depressive or manic episode. This suggests that it was not considered self-medicating behavior.

Possible Problems With the Study

Just as with many studies, people should take the findings with a grain of salt, because there are some possible issues with this study. For example, the sample size of this study was very small, with only 24 people. Not to mention that it was not diverse at all, since they were all from the U.K., so there's no telling if their background possibly influenced the findings.

In addition, the people who participated in the study were not in the middle of a manic or depressive episode. It's possible the findings would be different if they were. Also, those who were studied were only able to report their cannabis ingestion methods with the use of three categories. Those were resin, skunk and grass. The study did not take into account the possibility that different doses and methods of cannabis delivery could have different results.

Another possible problem is that the people who presided over the study interpreted the diary entries, which means there was no objectivity. Their own biases could have influenced their conclusions. Lastly, this study had no control group. This means there's no way to know if people without bipolar disorder could have the same results using cannabis.

The Relationship Between Marijuana & Bipolar Disorder

Considering that this study's findings are still up for debate, it's not clear whether marijuana helps or hurts people with bipolar disorder. After all, not everyone has the same exact symptoms, so it makes sense that not everyone reacts to the same medicine the same way.

In the end, people who have noticed positive effects on bipolar symptoms after using cannabis should continue using it. Those who have noticed negative or zero effects can move on to other options. In the meantime, anyone interested in the relationship between use can look forward to seeing more definitive answers once a larger, more accurate study is completed.

Photo Credit: Bill Strain