Latimer: Cannabis use and treatment of bipolar disorder

Unfortunately, cannabis does not generally have a positive effect on any psychiatric conditions.

In several previous columns I have written about the effects of cannabis use on various psychiatric disorders.

Cannabis is of course a widely used drug and many people use it regularly in spite of (or sometimes as a form of self-medication for) mental illness.

Unfortunately, cannabis does not generally have a positive effect on any psychiatric conditions and is known to make many conditions worse. Although people often talk of its positive effects, cannabis use actually makes ADHD, anxiety and depression worse and can also trigger psychotic symptoms in susceptible individuals.

New research is also proving cannabis to have a negative effect on treatment outcomes for people with bipolar disorder.

A Spanish study of almost 2,000 bipolar patients from centres in 14 European countries confirmed the drug hinders recovery. This was the first study to examine the long-term consequences of cannabis use or cessation on bipolar disorder.

Results showed continued cannabis use led to lower rates of remission and recovery as well as higher recurrence of mood episodes. Cannabis use was also associated with a higher rate of suicide attempts.

Interestingly, the study also showed that when cannabis use was stopped, so were its negative effects on bipolar treatment. For patients who stopped using cannabis during a manic or mixed episode, their clinical outcomes two years later were similar to those who had never used the drug.

This is positive news as it shows there is a real benefit to encouraging patients to stop drug use when dealing with bipolar disorder. It seems the negative effects can be reversed and patients can expect good treatment results and functioning if they are able to stop using cannabis.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness with no cure. It can be managed with a combination of medications, but requires ongoing interaction with a mental health professional as it often requires some treatment adjustments over time. Whenever there is a proven way to improve outcome and quality of life, it is good news for both doctor and patient.

Substance use in general is very common among individuals with bipolar disorder and cannabis is one of the most frequently used and easily accessible substances. Many people feel because it is a ‘natural’ drug it will be therapeutic –and especially with mood or anxiety conditions. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. This study is one more piece in a growing body of evidence strongly suggesting cannabis use has negative consequences when used by people with psychiatric conditions.

If you are struggling with bipolar disorder or other mental health symptoms, your safest and most effective option is to speak with a medical professional about options proven to provide relief.