Some sources say cannabis might help with bipolar disorder symptoms — but research suggests it can be dangerous.

Various reports say that cannabis might help people manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. If you have bipolar disorder, you might be tempted to self-medicate with cannabis.

However, there’s a lack of research to support this idea. In fact, using cannabis may come with certain risks when you have bipolar disorder, such as the potential for worsened manic symptoms and interactions with bipolar disorder medications.

Cannabis use is common among people with bipolar disorder, according to 2021 research. Many people with bipolar disorder report using it to improve their mood and help with their symptoms.

However, there is a lack of research on whether cannabis can help treat bipolar disorder.

A pilot investigation from 2016 found that cannabis could relieve some symptoms of bipolar disorder within a few hours. These symptoms include feelings of anger, depression, and tension.

A small 2015 study found that cannabis increased positive emotions in some people with bipolar disorder. However, it also seemed to worsen manic and depressive symptoms in some people.

Language matters

We use the term “cannabis” instead of “marijuana.”

We avoid the word “marijuana” because it has racist roots and connotations. The word “marijuana” first became popular in the United States during the cannabis prohibition movement, as it appealed to the widespread xenophobia against Mexican immigrants at the time.

Considering that racial minorities are more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, it’s especially important that we’re mindful of the language we use and how it can add to, or stem from, racist stereotypes.

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If you have bipolar disorder, cannabis use comes with certain risks.

A 2015 review concluded that cannabis might make the symptoms of mania worse. The study also suggested that cannabis might be a risk factor in activating manic episodes.

A different study from 2015 reported that people with bipolar disorder who used cannabis were more likely to attempt suicide than those who didn’t use cannabis. However, while the two were related, it is unclear whether one causes the other.

That said, a 2019 review of studies found that there’s too little data to suggest that cannabis is linked with suicidality in people with bipolar disorder, so more research is needed.

Another 2015 study looked at the effects of cannabis on 234 people with bipolar disorder over 24 months. The researchers found that cannabis use was associated with lower remission rates; in other words, people who used cannabis were less likely to get better.

Although there aren’t many studies on cannabis and bipolar disorder, the potential risks appear to outweigh the potential benefits.

Medical professionals recommend that people stick with evidence-based treatments for bipolar disorder, such as:

If you have bipolar disorder, a doctor or psychiatrist will likely prescribe you medication. Bipolar disorder usually is treated with mood stabilizers, like lithium.

Sometimes, your doctor might also prescribe other medications, such as benzodiazepines, atypical antipsychotics, or antidepressants.

Mood stabilizers and cannabis

Mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder include:

What happens if you use cannabis while taking mood stabilizers? Although cannabis use is prevalent among people with bipolar disorder, there’s a lack of research on whether it’s safe to use cannabis with mood stabilizers.

In one case, a person who used prescription CBD and lithium was diagnosed with lithium toxicity. Their symptoms included excessive tiredness and ataxia (impaired balance and coordination).

Medical professionals recommend that people avoid combining cannabis with other mood stabilizers, too. Although there’s a lack of research, the combination might produce side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion.

Antidepressants and cannabis

If you have bipolar disorder, a healthcare professional might prescribe an antidepressant, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

Some 2021 research suggests that CBD and THC, two chemicals in cannabis, could increase the amount of SSRIs in the bloodstream. This is potentially dangerous, as it could increase the risk of certain side effects.

Benzodiazepines and cannabis

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.

Some people with bipolar disorder benefit from using benzodiazepines. But can you combine benzodiazepines and cannabis?

There’s a lack of research, but medical professionals recommend that people avoid using them together. Both cannabis and benzodiazepines can induce drowsiness, amplifying the drowsy effect. Both substances can also cause confusion, dizziness, and slurred speech.

Although many people with bipolar disorder use cannabis, there is a real lack of research on whether medical cannabis can help treat bipolar disorder.

The available research suggests that cannabis might worsen symptoms or otherwise complicate bipolar disorder.

If you have bipolar disorder it’s important to talk with your doctor before using cannabis, whether you use it for medical or recreational reasons. This is especially important if you’re on any long-term medication because cannabis can interact with some medications, causing side effects.