How Does Marijuana Affect Bipolar and Schizophrenia Disorders?

How Does Marijuana Affect Bipolar and Schizophrenia Disorders?

There has been an ongoing debate among medical professionals and scientists about the relationship between regular marijuana use and co-occurring mental disorders: particularly bipolar disorder (BPD) and schizophrenia. The consensus is that marijuana use can cause adverse mental effects that mimic or worsen existing mental conditions, though the correlation is not entirely understood.

For patients who may be genetically vulnerable to specific disorders, it’s important to understand the neurobiological effects of marijuana use. Let’s take a look at some pros and cons and how marijuana specifically affects those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines bipolar disorder as a mental health condition that can cause radical shifts in energy, activity, mood, and the ability to perform daily tasks. Those with bipolar disorder can experience manic episodes involving rapid mood swings, ranging from emotions like elation and euphoria with increased energy, to depressive “lows” with intense feelings of indifference or hopelessness. These two extremes can be quite drastic without proper treatment, and estimates suggest that about 4.4% of adult Americans have this condition. No one knows the exact cause of bipolar disorder, but there are strong links between biological and genetic factors.

Does Marijuana Help Patients With Bipolar Disorder?

It’s not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to self-medicate, particularly with marijuana usage. While there is some anecdotal evidence that cannabis can be helpful, the science is far from clear. It’s important to note that one of the components in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes the “high” after use. This substance is the central focus of how cannabis affects those with bipolar disorder.

Though it may feel good at first, the high from THC can exacerbate mental health symptoms and could result in hallucinations. Because the opposite extreme of manic highs is depressive “lows,” the high from marijuana can make that emotional crash much more profound. Therefore, it is not recommended for teens with mental health conditions to use marijuana, as this substance has addictive qualities that can contribute to harmful self-medicating habits.

What Are the Negative Effects of Marijuana Use With Bipolar Disorder?

The adverse effects of marijuana use among patients with bipolar disorder are far more evident than the positive ones. There is a link established between cannabis and the following:

  • Longer, worsened manic episodes
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Quicker shifts from depressive to manic episodes
  • Worsened bipolar symptoms or developing BPD at an earlier age

It’s been reported that those who smoke marijuana regularly are less likely to experience “remission” from their BPD symptoms compared to patients who don’t smoke. It has also been discovered that those who smoke marijuana regularly may have higher disability levels, complete with worsened manic-depressive symptoms.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a relatively rare but serious mental illness that can affect the thought process. It often causes difficulty handling complex emotions, making decisions, and hallucinations: seeing or hearing things that aren’t real.

No one is sure of the cause of this condition. It’s a complex disorder with many factors, most likely from genetics. However, we do know that those who experience complications with brain chemicals are more likely to develop schizophrenia. We also know that drug use—particularly marijuana—can worsen existing symptoms.

What Is the Connection Between Marijuana Use and Schizophrenia?

It has been noted that marijuana use is common among schizophrenia patients. In fact, younger patients are more likely to abuse marijuana than alcohol. Researchers aren’t entirely certain what this means, though it’s likely that patients are just looking for more relief for their symptoms. However, the desire to self-medicate probably isn’t enough to explain the connection between schizophrenia and cannabis.

Psychosis is the common denominator between marijuana and schizophrenia. This isn’t a mental disorder itself but rather a symptom. Psychosis involves a disruption of thought that makes it difficult to discern what’s real and what isn’t. Psychosis could include seeing or hearing things that aren’t there or having intrusive thoughts that don’t go away. Psychosis can be one form of schizophrenia; a qualified mental health professional can discern the difference.

Is Marijuana Safe for People With Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia?

Multiple studies have shown that being high on marijuana can produce symptoms of psychosis. The effect can go away as the high wears off, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the substance isn’t harmful. Each individual's medical circumstances are unique, so there is no consensus among scientists or doctors about how marijuana affects people with mental disorders overall.

Still, the addictive qualities of cannabis, combined with the effects of other medications for mental disorders, are not a recommended combination. We strongly discourage anyone, but especially teenagers, from using marijuana if they have a diagnosed mental health disorder.

If you’re concerned about your marijuana use or want to learn more about how it may affect your symptoms, it is best to consult your doctor.

Is Marijuana Recommended At All For Bipolar Or Schizophrenic Patients?

The addictive nature of cannabis is not recommended for teenagers who may already be prone to self-medicate. What's more, cannabis is known to cause feelings of paranoia or anxiousness: two things that are already present among bipolar and schizophrenic patients. Because cannabis can exacerbate these symptoms, it can lead to worsened mental health over time. Regular marijuana use is also linked to depression and thoughts of suicide.

Finally, the link between regular marijuana use and schizophrenia is higher among people who start smoking it at a young age. Talk to your teen about not using marijuana even if their friends do; their mental health may depend on being able to resist the pressure.

Crownview Co-Occurring Institute is a reputable institution that seeks to help people suffering the effects of mental disorders, substance abuse, and more. We understand that these disorders can present themselves in many ways, involving factors that range from genetic to environmental and directly affect the way we approach treatment. Rather than using a "one size fits all" approach, we assess our patients as unique, multi-faceted individuals. Our therapists are highly trained, compassionate, and non-judgmental. You will be free to explain your symptoms in a safe, confidential, judgment-free space. To learn more about the programs and treatments we offer, as well as information regarding payment options with your existing insurance plan, call us today at 760.433.4357. Additionally, you can verify your insurance plan or access a contact form through our website. We'll get in touch with you as soon as possible to walk you through the intake process.