CBD is a molecule that presents a lot of potential in the field of mental health. Already, we’re finding that it can help people dealing with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and PTSD. Because CBD appears to regulate mood, we’re now seeing more studies focusing on its use for bipolar disorder as well. But is CBD actually effective in alleviating symptoms of BAD (bipolar affective disorder)?
So far, studies don’t show any direct application of CBD for bipolar disorder. However, what we know about its effects on low mood and poor sleep could be of use to those struggling with it.
Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder (or Bipolar Affective Disorder, and formerly manic depression) is a mental illness that creates extreme mood swings. People who suffer from this disorder alternate between extended periods of low mood or depression, and manic periods when their mood is extremely elevated.
These brutal changes can make it difficult for them to maintain consistent relationships and manage their everyday lives. Often, people with this disorder have to be in therapy and/or take antidepressant and antipsychotic medicines. In the most extreme cases, they may have to go into inpatient treatment.
Bipolar disorder symptoms
There are two main symptoms of bipolar disorder: depression and mania. You may be diagnosed with BAD if you cycle between these two states every few weeks or months.
Depressive episodes are characterized by:
- Low mood
- A lack of energy
- Abnormal sleeping patterns
- Unrelenting sadness
- Hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts
People sometimes assume that mania is an enjoyable side of bipolar disorder. However, it’s a very difficult phase to deal with. In fact, many people with BAD find it harder to manage than depressive episodes. During a manic episode, you will feel at least a few of these symptoms:
- Elevated mood
- Excess energy that can manifest in restlessness
- A decreased need for sleep
- Impulsivity that can lead to poor decision-making
- A lack of social awareness
- Delusional thought patterns
Bipolar disorder types
All forms of bipolar disorder are characterized by mood that alternates between depressive and manic episodes. However, we have identified a few different sub-categories, depending on the length of episodes and their intensity.
Bipolar I — people with this disorder experience manic episodes regularly, which are often followed by depressive episodes.
Bipolar II — people with this disorder experience longer major depressive episodes. Their manic episodes tend to be shorter and further in between.
Cyclothymia — people with cyclothymia have less severe symptoms of depression and mania. They still experience the two types of episodes, but they are more manageable.
Bipolar disorder treatment
Because everyone experiences bipolar disorder a bit differently, there are many treatment options available. The most common ones are psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy allows patients to talk about their symptoms, understand the patterns of their disorder and learn to manage them better. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can help BAD patients to create coping mechanisms and routines that help to deal with the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Medication can involve mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants. The type of drug and dose that psychiatrists prescribe depends on the intensity of symptoms.
Scientists who studied the effects of cannabinoids on bipolar disorder started with an observation: “bipolar affective disorder is often poorly controlled by prescribed drugs.” It’s true that it usually takes a lot of trial and error before people with BAD find a course of treatment that works for them. In some cases, they never find real relief from their symptoms. This explains why many of them are turning to cannabis and CBD as an alternative to conventional treatment options.
What is CBD?
CBD is the short name of a cannabinoid compound called “cannabidiol.” It’s a molecule found in the cannabis plant, which is mainly known for its health properties. Over recent years, there has been a major increase in research on the subject. Today, we know that it can help with:
- Seizure disorders
- Inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and arthritis
- High blood pressure
- Chronic pain
- Anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders
It’s important to make the distinction between CBD and medical cannabis. Medical cannabis generally contains a molecule called THC, which has psychoactive properties. THC creates changes in consciousness and perception; it’s the molecule that makes people “high” when they smoke marijuana. While THC also has medicinal properties, it’s not generally recommended for people with mental illness, as it could worsen symptoms like anxiety.
CBD is not psychoactive. Research has also found that it lowers anxiety, both in a low and high dose. According to the same review, it also has antipsychotic effects, which could help bipolar patients with their mania symptoms. The mood-regulating properties of CBD are due to its effects on the endocannabinoid system. When CBD enters the body, it binds with receptors that control a vast biological system: the ECS, or endocannabinoid system. That system is partially responsible for regulating mood, which is why CBD has been found useful in dealing with many mental illnesses, including:
CBD products that contain trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) are now legal on a federal level in the United States. However, they are not FDA-approved, and may still be illegal in certain states. Check your local laws before making a purchase.
How does CBD for bipolar disorder work?
So how could CBD be useful for people with bipolar disorder? By acting on the ECS, it could regulate their mood, making both depressive and manic symptoms less prevalent. Here’s how.
Scientists have found that CBD had antidepressant effects through a few different studies. For example, this 2014 experiment found that giving CBD to mice activated certain areas of their brain, which made it work similarly to an antidepressant substance. This other study found that CBD showed potential as a fast-acting antidepressant drug.
Unfortunately, we have a lot more studies conducted on mice than on humans. That being said, many people report that CBD helps to lift their mood.
As of yet, we don’t have the data to suggest that CBD could ever replace medicine used to treat major depression. However, it could be a helpful complement, helping those who don’t get full relief from psychiatric medication.
Sleep is a major issue in people with bipolar disorder. While depressive episodes can lead to lethargy and a greater need for rest, manic episodes often make it very hard to fall asleep. As a result, people with BAD find it hard to establish a steady sleep schedule that helps support them in their everyday life.
With its sleep-inducing abilities, CBD might be able to help. In a 2019 study, scientists administered daily doses of CBD to psychiatric patients for the course of over a month. They found that 66.7% responded positively to the CBD, reporting improved sleeping scores in the first month.
If you consider that sleep disorders like insomnia are closely linked to anxiety, it’s no wonder the patients responded well to CBD. After all, CBD is a substance with effective anti-anxiety effects. As a result, it can help people to sleep better by calming down stress and agitation.
CBD has antipsychotic effects, which we’ve mainly observed in schizophrenia patients. But could these effects also help bipolar patients during their manic episodes?
So far, the research isn’t conclusive. According to this clinical study, CBD doesn’t show signs of alleviating manic moods for people with bipolar disorder. However, scientists want to keep investigating the topic, as they believe that other forms and doses of CBD may be effective. Another study is in the making, which should be finished by April 2021.
Risks of taking CBD for bipolar disorder
CBD could help people with bipolar disorder feel better during depressive episodes, and help them sleep better. But are they any risks?
As a substance, CBD has a good safety profile. Over dozens of studies, we have only observed some mild side effects of the molecule. For example, it can make some people lethargic, create changes in appetite, and cause digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation.
It’s a fact that some people tolerate CBD better than others. However, there aren’t any notable dangerous or life-threatening side effects to taking CBD.
The main risk of taking CBD for bipolar disorder would be to replace psychiatric medicines with CBD. Although CBD can be useful in alleviating mental health symptoms, it may not be as effective as other substances which have been the subject of more clinical research. So if you’re thinking of trying out CBD for bipolar disorder, consult with a doctor or a psychiatrist first. And be very careful of swapping psychiatric medicines with CBD: it could have some dangerous effects on your bipolar symptoms.
CBD is a natural substance that has many uses for mental health. For example, we’ve found that it alleviates anxiety and depression, aids sleep, and even has some antipsychotic properties. However, we have yet to find clinical studies that support its use for bipolar disorder. CBD may help people with BAD sleep better and feel less low during their depressive episodes, but it shows no signs of helping with mania. Bipolar disorder patients should not swap any medicine they are currently taking for CBD, but they could try supplementing with the substance.