Ongoing research over the past few years has established a link between teen marijuana use and an increased risk of psychiatric disorders. However, there is insufficient research exploring the association between adolescent marijuana use and symptoms of bipolar disorder. Researchers from the Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, undertook the first-of-its-kind study to investigate the prospective association between teen marijuana use and symptoms of hypomania during early adulthood. Hypomania, characterized by periods of elevated mood, hyperactivity, frenzied speech, irritability and reduced need for sleep, is frequently experienced by people with bipolar disorder.
Results of the study, published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin in November 2017, showed that 17-year-olds, who used marijuana 2-3 times a week, had a higher likelihood of experiencing hypomania at ages 22-23. The researchers analyzed marijuana consumption and frequency of use among 3,370 participants at 17 years, following it up with a questionnaire at ages 22-23 to assess their lifetime experience of manic symptoms (including emotions, thoughts and behavior) while under the influence of the drug.
It was found that the link between teen marijuana use and hypomania depended on the dose – weekly consumption had a stronger association with the symptom than “any use.” The results were adjusted for factors like gender, substance use, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), depression and psychosis during adolescence. According to lead author Steven Marwaha, clinical academic psychiatrist at the University of Warwick, teen marijuana use could be an “independent risk factor for future hypomania” and the nature of association suggested a possible underlying link. “As such it might be a useful target for indicated prevention of hypomania,” he said.
Association between marijuana use and major psychiatric disorders complex
Past studies have attempted to analyze the causal relationship between marijuana use and major psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. While there is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of such a connection, the understanding remains complex and incomplete. Previous research found that not only was cannabis use frequent in patients suffering from bipolar disorder, it was also responsible for inducing manic symptoms. Another study found that using marijuana could cause various psychological effects for people with bipolar disorder, including a worsening of manic and depressive symptoms.
Past research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) showed that 2.5 percent of adolescents aged between 13 and 18 years met criteria for lifetime bipolar disorder, while 2.2 percent met the criteria in a given year.
The situation becomes critical for teens suffering from simultaneous addiction to marijuana and other illicit drugs and acute psychiatric illnesses like major depression and bipolar disorder. Such a condition is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. According to the 2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 1.4 percent adolescents aged 12 to 17 years were diagnosed with a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) and major depressive episode (MDE).
Targeting adolescent cannabis use may reduce bipolar disorder risk in later life
The study suggested that suitable interventions targeted at frequent adolescent cannabis use may reduce the risk of young people developing bipolar disorder. “Cannabis use mediates the link between childhood abuse and future hypomania. As such it might be a useful target for indicated prevention of hypomania,” the researchers said.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the most effective treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention whereby individuals receive care simultaneously for SUDs and the diagnosed mental illnesses. Although treatment needs to be customized to suit specific individuals, some common interventions include detoxification, inpatient rehabilitation, psychotherapy and medications.
Adolescents who experience troubling symptoms of substance abuse and co-occurring psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder need specialized care. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego, a leading substance abuse and behavioral health treatment facility in the United States, offers state-of-the-art teen dual diagnosis rehab to adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years. To find out more about our specialized programs, call our 24/7 helpline. You can also chat online with our experts, who will help you with more information on teen dual diagnosis treatment centers.