Cannabis and Bipolar

By James Heaton

As society advances closer to the decriminalization of cannabis more research is being done on the effects of THC and CBD on bipolar disorder.

Due to the fact that cannabis has been listed as illegal substance since 1937, testing has been for the most part impossible. In 1936 a propaganda film was released called Reefer Madness. Harry J. Anslinger, motivated mostly by his racist views that marijuana, “makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” (an actual quote from Harry J. Anslinger). Along with Mr. Anslinger’s racist views and the possible use of hemp to replace trees and cotton in the early days of American textile growth, Cannabis was outlawed by the federal government and listed as a schedule 1 narcotic. Along with Heroin and LSD, marijuana was listed as a dangerous substance and banned from use.

Before the federal criminalization of Cannabis, the plant was actually very popular in treating common ailments. It was used by pharmacist in many of their tonics. As early as 2727 BCE, cannabis has been documented as actual medication. Emperor Shen Nung in China documented his use of the plant.

Cannabis, or Marijuana is a fast-growing flower. The actual flower part, or the bud, is full of THC resin. Its cousin, Hemp is a fast-growing plant that can be used to make paper products, clothing, and plastic. Hemp only has CBD and does not contain THC.

As with any medication there will always be a percentage of people who have had adverse reactions to cannabis. Some of these people experience paranoia and triggered episodes of mania or depression. But these reactions are rare and more recently the newly noted condition,
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis (CHS). First noted in 2004, CHS is believed to be caused by overuse of Cannabis. Symptoms include vomiting and stomach pain. But this is technically the only noted medical reaction to Cannabis that causes discomfort.

With an unregulated market, Cannabis is still a mystery in some aspects but it is clear that many people find relief from mental health disorders by using Cannabis.

Cannabis comprises more than 500 chemical compounds. Two of the compounds, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), make up the most important parts of the plant. In most states in the US, CBD is legal and currently seeing a popularity for its ability to help with joint pain and overall health. But THC remains at the center of heavy debates over its benefits to people as medication. Current trends show that Cannabis will more than likely be decriminalized in the next 5 -10 years in the United States. A heavy surge in its use in the 1960’s by the young adults of the era, and its popularity in movies by Cheech and Chong as well as its presence in Rap Culture have made Weed a household name, although it has lived through a bad reputation.

Already prescribed in the United States is Marinol or Dronabinol, a man-made form of THC. It is commonly used to treat nausea and vomiting with cancer patients and as a way to treat weight loss in HIV patients.

But how can cannabis treat bipolar disorder?

Used in conjunction with anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medication; Cannabis can be used to lessen the effects of manic phases as well as assisting with sleep disorders commonly associated with taking bipolar medication.

One of the benefits of cannabis with bipolar disorder is the calming effects during manic episodes. When a bipolar patient is experiencing intense mania it is often compared to the effects of cocaine. Uncontrollable energy, racing thoughts and impulsive decisions plague patients with bipolar disorder during their manic cycling. Using Cannabis during these period has benefitted many patients. With the ability to relax and slow a person down, Cannabis is helpful when a person needs immediate relief.

Another benefit is cannabis as a sleep medication.

With the use of certain medications that are prescribed for bipolar disorder, sleep is typically one of the areas of our lives that is affected by the addition of anti-depressants. Over time, continued use of sleep medication becomes less and less effective for its primary purpose, to help us sleep. Using a small amount of cannabis can help relax a person and provide the ability to sleep without raising the dose on your sleep medication.

CBD versus THC, which is better? CBD doesn’t have the ability to cause the intense high normally associated with using Cannabis. The “high” part comes from THC. But it is important to note that every human has an Endocannabinoid system. Built into our nervous system is a complex structure of CBR’s or Cannabinoid receptor proteins. This system helps to regulate physiological and cognitive processes. So, our bodies work in conjunction with Cannabis to regulate certain functions. Humans have been using cannabis for an extremely long time and even benefitting from animals that ingest cannabis or hemp. Cows have been ingesting hemp for hundreds of years, with the cannabinoids entering their system and directly benefitting humans that drank their milk.

CBD is used to treat pain, by directly interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors. This can include reducing inflammation and interacting with the neurotransmitters. CBD is also effective in treating sleep disorders.

As mentioned earlier CBD is mostly legal in the United States and available in many forms. There are CBD gummies, CBD oil, CBD creams and many more items made for anyone wanting to use CBD daily.

THC is the psychoactive part of Cannabis, the higher the level of THC the more you will experience the “high”, or euphoric feelings that are associated with weed. In many of the dispensaries across the legalized states, you can purchase your weed with designated mixed portions of both THC and CBD. Some people chose a higher amount of CBD for treating mental health issues or arthritic issues. While others use more THC for relaxation and recreation.

My personal experience with cannabis has lasted for well over thirty years. I first smoked weed in high school and on into college. I enjoyed being able to escape the anxiety or everyday life and go on a journey of mental exploration. During the 90’s I worked in Law Enforcement for many years and did not use Cannabis during that time, but after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and OCD in 1997 I would use it occasionally, mostly in a social setting. It wasn’t until approximately ten years ago I began using daily. In the early days of treating my bipolar disorder I was prescribed Lithium and experienced many side effects. But three years ago, I was faced with ECT and effectively going off of the Lithium. After the ECT I was put on a lower dose of medication and found that regularly smoking weed helped with my ability to relax and sleep better with a lower dose of Trazadone for sleep. I was able to lower my dose of Trazadone from 300 mgs to 100 mgs with nightly use of Cannabis. I also noticed that it helped with my arthritic pain. Along with Bipolar Disorder and OCD I also suffer with Psoriatic Arthritis and use a biologic medication for treatment. Daily use of Cannabis helped with my conditions and also helped with my focus. I was much more productive from using Cannabis daily.

My main concern was having to smoke the weed to get its effects. In a quest to be healthier I had given up all alcohol and cigars, so smoking weed seemed to be something negative for my health. I found a recipe for making cannabis gummies on-line and made my first batch. For over a year I ate two gummies every night before bed. Within 30-45 minutes of eating the gummies I could feel the effects of the Cannabis. Recently I have switched to using cannabis oil by itself. I make my own batch using cannabis and organic coconut oil once a month. I enjoy better sleep, better focus, and less anxiety as well as less pain from my arthritis. I have had no negative side effects from the cannabis, and feel it is just as important as my prescribed medications.

I convinced a close friend to try cannabis for his anxiety. I’ve watched him go from severe incapacitating panic attacks to a relaxed state. He shares in my feelings that it is extremely beneficial and that it helps considerably with our issues.

Can it be abused? Of course. But to this date not one person has ever died from a cannabis overdose. One of the only side effects I have noticed is small weight gain, as cannabis does increase your appetite.

But the overall benefit of its use is very positive. If I am unable to take a dose or need to take a break from using it, I have no withdrawals and no cravings for “a fix”. I occasionally take a few days off and then return to using it nightly. I have noticed that the nights I don’t use it, my sleep suffers. My ability to fall asleep as well as stay asleep is the most noticeable side effect of not using the cannabis. I also notice more joint pain when I take a break.

As society becomes increasingly educated on the science behind Cannabis I trust that we will continue to explore all the possible uses for our medical needs. In comparison to most psych meds, Cannabis cause considerably fewer side effects and appears safer for longer use. Nobody enjoys pumping loads of chemicals into our bodies with years of mental health treatments, so the use of Cannabis as an alternative is extremely welcomed.

James Heaton Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved

This is a reflective opinion on medication and not to be viewed as a physicians diagnose or treatment. Consult your physician before trying any medication, respect your state laws on Cannabis use.


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