• How Cannabis Use Affects People with Bipolar Disorder

    How Cannabis Use Affects People with Bipolar Disorder

    A group of researchers looked at 3,459 patients with bipolar disorder. These individuals were followed over the course of 12 months and their symptoms and compliance with treatment were measured along with their cannabis use. The study showed that increased use of marijuana was associated with greater severity of mania, depression, and psychosis in individuals who used marijuana and those who had poorer compliance to treatment [2]. In addition, the bipolar patients who used marijuana reported experiencing less life satisfaction and poor relationships compared the bipolar patients who did not use marijuana. Similar findings have been found in other studies.

    Cannabis Use in Bipolar Patients

    Research like the one cited above has led to quite a bit of confusion regarding the relationship between marijuana use and bipolar disorder over the course of an individual’s daily activities. A recent study attempted to examine the effect of marijuana use of the symptoms of bipolar disorder [3].

    The researchers followed 24 individuals with bipolar disorder and had them complete diaries over a six-day time period using Experience Sampling Methodology (ESM). ESM is a structured method where the individuals are required to report their thoughts, feelings, and symptoms over the course of their daily activities. This allows researchers to get an actual feel for the moment to moment experiences of an individual with a mental disorder as opposed to asking them questions and requiring them to think about how they felt in the past.

    The results indicated that individuals with bipolar disorder were more likely to increase their use of marijuana when they were in a good mood. Marijuana use was not associated with occurring periods of depression in the individuals in this study.

    Interestingly, the use of marijuana in the individuals with bipolar disorder produced an increase in a positive mood, manic symptoms, and in depressive symptoms in different individuals. The researchers suggest that marijuana is not being used by these individuals to self-medicate their daily bipolar symptoms, but may be associated with positive and negative mood states in these individuals (e.g., feeling good leads to more usage). Thus it may be that the person just feeling well is associated with cannabis use. For now, further research is needed to actually understand how marijuana use over the long-term has an impact on a person’s bipolar disorder symptoms.


    [1] Lev-Ran, S., Le Foll, B., McKenzie, K., George, T.P., & Rehm, J. (2013). Bipolar disorder and co-occurring cannabis use disorders: characteristics, co-morbidities and clinical correlates. Psychiatry Research, 209(3), 459–465

    [2] van Rossum, I., Boomsma, M., Tenback, D., Reed, C., & van Os, J. (2009). Does cannabis use affect treatment outcome in bipolar disorder?: A longitudinal analysis. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 197(1), 35-40.

    [3] Tyler, E., Jones, S., Black, N., Carter, L. A., & Barrowclough, C. (2014). The Relationship between Bipolar Disorder and Cannabis Use in Daily Life: An Experience Sampling Study. PloS one, 10(3), e0118916-e0118916.

    Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

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