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Studies correlate cannabis use with symptoms of mania and psychosis

According to recent studies, prolonged use of cannabis can increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms demonstrated in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Certain theorists state that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) induces symptoms of psychosis in people that would otherwise be perfectly healthy. THC also acts as a catalyst, as it worsens psychotic symptoms in those suffering from schizophrenia. Furthermore, studies show that the recreational use of cannabis can have detrimental effects on people with bipolar disorder, as it elevates one’s mental state to cause mania and decreases moods, causing severe depression.

How cannabis affects the brain

In 2012, Dr. Sagnik Bhattacharyya led a study at King’s College in London that analyzed the effects of THC on the brain and if psychotic symptoms were activated due to cannabis exposure. Fifteen males who had a past with limited marijuana use were given THC pills or a placebo. Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, the researchers found that the THC pills had the following effects:

  • Increased activity in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, which controls how the brain perceives and remembers emotional significance of incoming sensory information
  • Decreased activity in the striatum, which is the primary region of the brain that regulates anxiety

As a result of the study, the researchers believe that the THC altered the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which resulted in the increased and decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex and the striatum. The study concluded that THC significantly increased the severity of psychotic symptoms compared to those that took the placebo. These symptoms include but are not limited to the following

  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Ongoing unusual thoughts and beliefs
  • Paranoia
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Manic-like symptoms brought on by cannabis

CB1 receptors are responsible for the “high” feeling when a person smokes pot. Studies show that the CB1 receptors are implicated in the control of a variety of behavioral functions, including emotional responses, as well as learning and memory processes. This can explain the psychotic and manic-like states of mind or emotions that can be induced by THC. CB2 receptors are associated with the immune system and are found all throughout the body. THC interacts with both of these receptors, which is how the drug can provide a feeling of elation, which in some people can bring upon manic-like symptoms.

Cannabis and bipolar disorder

Cannabis use prior to the onset of bipolar disorder has a significant effect on the first episode of mania and throughout the lifetime of the disease. Reported evidence suggests that using cannabis can significantly increase the risk for manic symptoms including an inability to concentrate, an elevated mood, irritability, insomnia and more. (Henquet; Krabbendam; de Graaf 2006) It increases the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and distorts the brain’s sense of time and energy, providing a stimulated response to the brain. This results in an excited, anxious or energetic feeling. The acetylcholine system, which helps people’s memory, is also affected by cannabis use, leading to heart palpitations and short-term memory loss.

Cannabis is the most commonly abused drug among people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (Leweke; Koethe 2008) Its use is linked to an increase in manic and depressive symptoms in people with bipolar disorder, according to Dr. Elizabeth Tyler of the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University in the U.K. A study evaluated people diagnosed with bipolar disorder for six days, where daily journaling was conducted to report each person’s emotional state and drug use over one week. The researchers found that cannabis use increased when the patient’s moods were already elevated. It was concluded that the drug was being used by bipolar patients during both positive and negative mental states, which resulted in increases of both manic and depressive symptoms.

Cannabis use for recreational or medicinal purposes is highly dangerous and can induce unwanted psychotic-like symptoms. The drug is potentially even more dangerous for people suffering from mental health disorders. The consequences cannabis use can have is generally underrated, so it’s important to become educated on the hazards of its usage.

If you or a loved one is suffering from the the abuse of or addiction to cannabis or a co-occurring mental health disorder, call our Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405 to speak to a member of our team for more information on how to find treatment.

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