Cannabis for Bipolar

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PHOTO: Ben Reynal, Creative Commons

Trigger Warning: This article discusses depression, violence, & Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).

What could possibly cause a mother to give a bong filled with marijuana to her 10-year-old daughter?  Simply put, to save the lives of all her children.

Cannabis has been proven to be an effective treatment for many physical and psychological conditions, including Bipolar Disorder.  This is not a “fact” or rumor taken from the Internet, not an assumption based on something that was heard, once upon a time.  Rather, this information is drawn from a very personal source.

My mother started treating my Bipolar Disorder when I was 10, after I tried to stab my brother and ended up taking his bedroom door completely off the hinges.  She was an “original hippie” who knew, understood and appreciated the benefits of medicinal cannabis more than 30 years ago.  My mother told me I needed to learn how to hit the bong and calm down, or she would call the cops and have me arrested.  This was my reality and the beginning of my appreciation and respect for cannabis.

Bipolar Disorder can be a particularly difficult disease to deal with as symptoms can range from the extreme highs of mania to the deepest depression and suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts and actions.  Often, hallucinations and delusions are present, which causes the patient to lose complete contact with reality.

Anger and violence have often accompanied most of my depressive phases. Thankfully, my mother understood that this is a disease, and the symptoms would respond to cannabis.

Using cannabis has been extremely effective in treating all aspects of my Bipolar Disorder.  It alleviates the depression, the dark hole one crawls into and cannot seem to escape, without thoughts of suicidal and homicidal ideation.  Cannabis also calms the racing mind and helps to control the impulsivity while allowing the patient to relate to others without the grandiose thinking that often accompanies Bipolar Disorder.

I have never been quiet or even that discreet about using marijuana.  While working for a local police department, it was a well-known fact, among staff and officers.  It was the only way many of us could function in the stress-filled environment of an emergency 911 center and I was not the only one who medicated in order to work that job.

There are, admittedly, a few things wrong with using cannabis to treat any disorder.  I currently reside in a “non-legal state”, therefore, the fact that I (and my family) could be charged with a state or federal crime and incarcerated for choosing an all natural, healing herb is the most disturbing and my reason for advocating for cannabis legalization throughout Utah.

Physically obtaining cannabis has never been much of an issue, even in Utah.  However, being able to afford it can be.  By allowing a patient to grow their own choice of herbal medicine, the affordability of treatment is greatly reduced.

When unable to afford or access cannabis, I tend to decompensate quickly and usually end up being forcibly admitted to lock down psychiatric facilities where numerous pharmaceuticals are pumped into my system, often times without my full consent or even knowledge.  I eventually wind up having to undergo Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) as a last-ditch effort.  The ECT usually consists of at least 10-20 treatments, which requires a general anesthetic.  After the administration of the anesthesia intravenously, the treating physician then places one or two electrodes on the head (the location depends on the exact type of ECT) and administers a “shock” of electricity in order to produce a seizure.

Images of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” come to mind when discussing shock therapy, which are usually disavowed by hospital staff.  However, common side effects of ECT include severe headaches and nausea, loss of bladder control, muscle aches and spasms, debilitating memory loss and the inability to concentrate or focus.

Prior to undergoing ECT, I was a highly functioning individual, with the assistance of cannabis.  I was a college graduate, raising a daughter,  working in highly stressful environments.  After starting ECT, I lost my job with the State of Utah, was found to be permanently disabled, and have not been able to work at any substantial level since, despite numerous attempts.

My specific side effects have included immense memory loss (both short and long-term) and the inability to concentrate.  I lost the ability to read and write and was trying to read from right to left and misinterpreted almost every word.  I also experienced serious word finding problems and developed a type of signaling or signing for my daughter to understand.

Teaching myself to read and write again was one of the hardest things I have ever managed in my life.  After more than 5 years of undergoing fairly consistent ECT treatments, I continue to struggle with the very basics elements of communication.

The cost of hospitalizations and ECT treatments (both in and outpatient) are astronomical.  Being hospitalized every 3-6 months for 2-3 weeks at a time, with corresponding outpatient ECT treatments can cost upwards of $60,000 each time, some of which is covered by Medicare, the rest is usually written off as I am on disability and unable to afford it.

It makes much more sense to allow patients be able to obtain cannabis legally, through a dispensary, or better yet, grow it for their personal use.  Legal or not, cannabis will continue to be my treatment of choice.

SI ExifI was initially prescribed pharmaceuticals at the age of 15, and have tried basically every psychotropic medication available including Lithium, Lamictal, Depakote, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Saphris. The side effects of these medications include severe sedation, dry mouth, loss of creativity, and nausea, and the prohibitive cost keeps many patients with Bipolar Disorder from maintaining their prescriptions.

None of these prescribed medications have provided the type of relief that cannabis does. Personal experience has consistently proven that I am able to think much more clearly and actually function with the assistance of cannabis.  It allows me to be a calmer, patient, and more understanding mother and has been a terrific aid  in raising a wonderful daughter.

Different symptoms of Bipolar Disorder can be treated with different strains of cannabis.  Sativa strains produce a more euphoric type of high, improving mood and relieving stress while Indica strains help to relax muscles, work as general analgesics and help with sleep. I will continue to choose cannabis over prescription medications or ECT, every time!

By sharing this story, I hope to encourage other patients and families who are trying to live with Bipolar Disorder to consider utilizing cannabis as an all natural, herbal remedy to control their symptoms, “legal” or not.