Cannabis Use Linked to Higher Cognitive Performance in Bipolar I Patients

Someone sent me a link to this article several weeks ago actually, but I wanted to track down the source before writing about it. It took me quite a long time, but there is an original abstract for the research document here. 

The abstract is for a paper written by a team led by Raphael J. Braga, associated with a series of Hospitals and teams in New York state. The study was done on a series of patients with Bipolar type I, 50 of whom had a history of cannabis use, and 150 of whom did not. These two patient groups are said to not have differed in age, age of onset, or global assessment of functioning.

The group with history of cannabis use did, however, have more male patients, and patients in this group also had a higher instance of history of psychosis.

But here’s the kicker; patients in the cannabis use group demonstrated significantly better performance on measures of attention, processing speed, and working memory. 

“The history of CUD (“cannabis use disorder”) is associated with history of psychosis, suggestive of poorer clinical prognosis. Interestingly, bipolar patients with history of CUD had better neurocognitive performance as compared to patients with no history of CUD.” (Pulled from the paper abstract.)

Ok, so what does this mean?

It doesn’t surprise me that cannabis users were found to have an increased occurrence of psychosis. After all, I’ve heard accounts from perfectly rational, mentally healthy people who used cannabis and experienced psychotic-type symptoms; anything from intense paranoia, to visual or audible hallucinations. If this is something that can occur for a mentally healthy individual, I would expect it to be more likely to occur for anyone who has experienced psychosis on their own. At the same time, it is possible that the state of relaxation cannabis use can put someone into might make psychotic symptoms seem much less threatening or overwhelming… which is something of a trade off for someone who is experiencing them anyway.

Washington state is one of 17 states (18, if you count the District of Columbia in there) that have legalized medical cannabis use, and I think medical marijuana is one of the number one things people with bipolar disorder send me questions about.

Is it safe?

Is it helpful?

Is a medical card something bipolar disorder would qualify me for?

I’ve heard a lot about the benefits of medical marijuana for things like PTSD and anxiety, and even occasionally about depression. Solid research, however, up to this point about cannabis use and Bipolar disorder has been hard to come by.

I think a lot of research is being done lately using substances that have been found in “unlikely places” (think of the recent research regarding magic mushrooms, or ketamine) and I, for one, am glad people are willing to think outside the box for potential treatment options for things like depression and bipolar disorder, which are very difficult to live with.

Like anything else, I’ve had some people with bipolar disorder tell me that medical marijuana has really helped them, and I have had other people tell me that they didn’t like it at all and it seemed to make things worse. Like any medication your doctor might prescribe, it doesn’t effect everyone the same way. This latest research seems to show cannabis use for this group may be more helpful than many people expected, but like anything else… it isn’t a miracle cure. I think if we keep that in mind, there are many treatment options we can try that might be helpful!

5 responses to “Cannabis Use Linked to Higher Cognitive Performance in Bipolar I Patients

  1. I remember vividly from my time in the mental hospital how the 2 most popular drugs in there by a long way were cannabis and crack! (Number 3 was probably heroin.)
    It amazes me, looking back, how you’d frequently find reference, in the 1990s on the letters pages of youth and dance music magazines here (UK) to the common belief that the big pharmaceutical companies were evil for pushing drugs like Valium and that mental patients would be better off chilling out with big fat spliffs between their lips!
    NOTHING is liable to make me completely psychotic quicker than a few tokes on that most EVIL of weeds. It’s like severe schizophrenia plus Alzheimers all wrapped up in a ciggie skin. Nasty NASTY stuff. I used to smoke it as a student and didn’t miss the crap at ALL when I gave it up. Over the years, the tiny bits I did use started disagreeing with me so intensely vehemently that I just couldn’t tolerate the stuff at all. Most people I know loathe cannabis for the same reasons as me: paranoia and memory loss. How the hell anyone can seriously think of it as a viable alternative to diazepam beats me ~~ I get the feeling most of the people writing into those letters pages back in the 90s had never even tried Valium. And were probably too stoned on the cannabis to admit it.
    By the way I last bought cannabis just before the craze for super-strength grass kicked in. The stuff we smoked back in the day was nearly always hash. That shows just how long ago it was… nearly 20 years ago now… And I never EVER miss the Evil Cannabis AT ALL!

    • Glenwood, I hate to even acknowledge such a moronically ignorant comment… but maybe until you have, or know someone with, a disorder that is greatly alleviated by Cannabis you should keep your mouth shut. You are clearly here to bad mouth something you’re biased against, not to provide anything positive or useful. Do us a favor and delete you’re comment so people like me who have known the results of this study to be true for years can finally get closer to legalizing our best found medical treatment. I’ve been diagnosed with bi-polar since a young age, by several doctors over the years, and I’ll tell you – smoking a little bit of this stuff can calm me down when I’m mad at the world or ground me out when I’m so manic I can’t focus on anything. I’ve been on a plethora of anti-depressant drugs, none of which left me feeling like ‘myself’. If you think being doped off Valium is somehow ‘better’ I question if you’ve ever really taken it. Valium isn’t much better than booze for most people. If it doesn’t put you to sleep it just lowers you’re inhibitions/anxiety levels but makes it so you can’t drive (i.e. booze). I think Valium has it’s uses too, but I don’t want to be drooling on myself or sleeping when I could fix my problems with a puff of ganja and be back to my old creative & productive self. Just because something you tried as a youth isn’t enjoyable doesn’t mean it can’t help others. I just hope people are smart enough to ignore your ignorant comment and keep an open mind.

  2. I miss smoking cannabis and could believe that it might help me during a depressive episode. However I really wouldnt dare try it as it could make everything worse. I recall how the days became blurred when I was smoking everyday and time seemed to pass really quickly. When I am depressed time seems to drag and escaping that would be beneficial. I know the article was about cognitive ability. I personally dont seem to suffer any reduced cognitive function since being diagnosed bipolar.

  3. I have to admit that as a long-time and unrepentant cannabis user, I find that the smoke is great anxiolytic with very tolerable and short-term side effects – plus no risk of addiction (dependency is a different thing entirely). The negative health effects are minimal and impermanent. The worst side effect for me is the munchies; I don’t need the compulsive, mindless eating, but with effort that can be overcome as well.

    When I’m down, the cannabis makes me care less about feeling so awful; I stop fixating on being depressed and am able to stay more “in the moment.” When I have cramps from hell, it alters my perception of pain and makes it more tolerable. When I’m up, it calms me down to a more or less normal range of activity. It lets me sleep easily. It ironically makes it easier for me to focus, what with the ADHD and all, because it slows my brain down enough to allow me to ignore extraneous stimuli. When I’m completely stuck with my brain in a directionless loop, it sparks a little creativity and direction – I’m often more productive than not.

    Some people find that it makes them paranoid, distracted, or absent-minded. These are all genuine side effects and they are worse for some people than others. But for some people, those side effects are minimal and far less intolerable than psych meds. We all need to remember that this is a drug like any other, and different people will find different pros/cons to using it.

    I’m all for some more rigorous, honest research into what cannabis can do for mental disorders.

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