CBD and Bipolar Disorder
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In recent years, we’ve seen unprecedented transparency and destigmatization when it comes to topics around mental illness and mental health. This is valuable because awareness is key to understanding. A common misconception is using the terms mental health and mental illness interchangeably. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “mental health” is a concept that is similar to “physical health” in that it refers to a state of wellbeing. Mental health includes our emotions, feelings of connection to others, our thoughts, and our ability to manage the highs and lows of life. Further, the presence or absence of mental illness is not a predictor of the state of one’s mental health. In other words, a person without a mental illness can have poor mental health, while a person with a mental illness can have excellent mental health. This is why being aware of and speaking openly about these topics is important. An example of this can be a person experiencing mood swings versus a person who has bipolar disorder. In this case, one person is experiencing a downtick in their mental health, while the other person happens to have a medical condition. Being able to distinguish between the two is key to achieving an accurate diagnosis and a more targeted treatment plan.
What is Bipolar disorder?
Now that we’ve established the difference between mental health and mental illness, let’s discuss bipolar disorder in more detail. Simply put, bipolar disorder causes changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Of course, these changes aren’t exclusive to people who have bipolar disorder. However, for people with bipolar disorder, these very typical emotions can be a roller coaster of wild highs and devastating lows. Most notably, these emotions are not driven by the events of life, but by a force of their own, making the person experiencing them sometimes erratic and unpredictable.
These mood swings are categorized as manic/hypomanic, meaning unusually happy or irritable, or depressive, which is a sad mood. People with bipolar disorder also have periods where they experience a neutral mood as well. When properly treated, those with bipolar disorder are able to manage the conditions and lead healthy and productive lives.
Bipolar disorder is a condition that typically runs in the family. Between 80 to 90 percent of people who have bipolar disorder have a family member who has bipolar disorder or depression. There are environmental factors such as lack of sleep, stress, or alcohol consumption that may trigger episodes. Though the available science has determined the triggers, we have yet to discover what causes the disorder.
What are the symptoms of and treatments for bipolar disorder?
There are different bipolar disorder diagnoses: bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II, and cyclothymic disorder. The symptoms and treatments will depend on the diagnosis. Bipolar disorder I is typically diagnosed when the individual begins to experience manic episodes. For people with bipolar disorder I, a manic episode usually involves a surge of intense energy. The person may feel as though they can accomplish anything or they may be in a very irritable mood. In some cases, people with bipolar disorder I can experience hypomanic or depressive episodes. They may also have periods where their mood is neutral. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder II, a person must experience at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode. Between these episodes, people typically return to their normal functioning. Those with bipolar disorder II usually seek treatment after their first depressive episode since hypomanic episodes often feel extremely positive and may actually improve performance at school or work. Many people with bipolar disorder II also have other mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder or substance use disorder. The latter usually worsen symptoms of depression and hypomania. Finally, there is a cyclothymic disorder which is a milder form of bipolar disorder. It causes a person to experience frequent mood swings as well as frequent hypomania and depressive symptoms. Though there are many emotional highs and lows, they are less severe than those experienced by people who have bipolar disorder I or II.
Manic episodes usually last around a week and affect the person by either causing them to feel extremely excited or extremely irritable, have high energy, and exhibit 3 of the following list of behaviours:
- Increased activity and restlessness
- Talking more and faster speech
- Risky behaviour
- Sustained energy
These behaviours must be dramatically different from a person’s regular behaviour and they must be noticeable to friends and family. Symptoms will be severe enough to cause issues at work, with family, and friends. These symptoms will sometimes be so disruptive as to require a person to receive medical attention in order to ensure they are safe. Manic episodes may also have psychotic effects that involve disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and false beliefs.
These episodes have been described as less severe manic episodes that may last four days in a row rather than a week. Hypomanic symptoms do not usually disturb everyday functioning such as manic episodes.
Depressive episodes are typically a minimum of two weeks where a person has a minimum of five of the symptoms listed below:
- A difficult time concentrating
- Either a surge of increased sleep or sleeplessness
- Either a surge of increased appetite or loss of appetite
- Intense sadness or despair
- Loss of interest in activities that the person would usually enjoy
- Feeling worthless or guilt
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
What are other disorders that can affect mood?
As previously mentioned, it is normal to have days when you are sad and others when you feel intense joy. In other words, having mood swings is not something that is out of the ordinary. It becomes worrisome when the shifts in mood are so severe that they affect your life to an extreme degree and if these shifts in mood occur frequently and last several days to several weeks. Besides bipolar disorder, there are a number of other disorders that cause drastic mood swings such as major depressive disorder or MDD, Dysthymia, personality disorders, and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder or DMDD.
Someone with MDD will experience intense sadness for an extended period of time. MDD is often referred to as a clinical depression. Similarly, Dysthymia, which is now called persistent depressive disorder is a chronic form of depression. Personality disorders, on the other hand, cause a rapid shift in mood changes over short periods of time. Finally, DMDD is a mood disorder that is typically only diagnosed in children. A child with DMDD will have outbursts that are not in line with their development age.
Other mental health conditions that do not necessarily affect mood directly but may have an impact on mood include schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
What are traditional treatments for managing your mood?
People with bipolar disorder can manage their condition and live healthy and productive lives as long as they are consistent with treatment. Many bipolar symptoms commonly improve with treatment. For most people. Medication is the cornerstone of their treatment plan. In addition to medication, many people also benefit from talk therapy (or psychotherapy) which can help patients learn about their condition and follow their treatment plans in a more regimented way.
The medication that is most commonly prescribed for those with bipolar disorder is mood stabilizers like lithium. This medication is thought to adjust the imbalance of the brain signals.
In some cases, if medication and psychotherapy are not proving effective, some patients undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT involves several rounds of short electrical currents applied to the scalp while a patient is under anesthesia. This treatment leads to short, controlled seizures that are believed to remodel the brain’s signalling pathways.
What are the benefits of CBD over traditional treatments?
As a natural alternative to traditional prescriptions medication, many people opt for CBD to help with a number of conditions and illnesses. Since the area of research surrounding CBD is relatively new, there is much information that still needs to be gathered about the way it impacts the body and its efficacy in dealing with certain conditions. Regarding CBD and bipolar disorder specifically, the science is limited and the available evidence does not support the idea that CBD can help those with bipolar disorder mitigate their symptoms. For instance, recent literature reviews from 2020 and 2021 reveal that there is insufficient evidence to support that cannabinoids are an effective measure against disorders like bipolar disorder. This may be due to the THC levels that exist in some cannabis products. One study from 2015 found that the use of cannabis can impact people with bipolar disorder negatively because it may lower their chance of long-term remission.
Yet, there is evidence that suggests that CBD specifically can help with stress and anxiety. It is important to note that CBD products possess much lower levels of THC. However, a rule of thumb is that those who suffer from mood disorders should stay away from any substances not specifically prescribed by a doctor. With that being said, if you believe that CBD products may help your mood disorder, it is important to speak with your doctor about possibly incorporating it into your treatment.
How can CBD help manage your mood?
CBD interacts with your Endocannabinoid System or ECS, which is responsible for maintaining bodily homeostasis. CBD is a natural alternative because your body naturally produces endocannabinoids. When you use CBD for mood management, the phytocannabinoids in CBD bind to receptors in your body to help regulate bodily functions including metabolism, managing pain, sleep, stress, immune responses, and even mood. Once they’ve completed their task, the phytocannabinoids are broken down by enzymes. In this way, CBD prevents the depletion of your body’s storage of endocannabinoids.
Ultimately, though there is available science that supports the claim that CBD can assist with mood fluctuations, if you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, we recommend that you seek the advice of your doctor before attempting any treatment. Your doctor will be able to advise you on whether CBD is right for you.
DISCLAIMER: Information and products presented by resolveCBD are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or ailment, nor is it intended to be a substitute or alternative for professional medical advice. Always consult with a licensed professional regarding medical treatment or possible interactions with prescribed drugs. Products are intended to be used as directed, by individuals who are 19 years of age or older.