THC Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

What to know about THC abuse when there’s a co-occurring mental health diagnosis

In 2016, voters in Florida overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of allowing medical marijuana and other items containing  Tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC. The vote in Florida came in the wake of a nation-wide trend, which saw several states either legalize or decriminalize medical and recreational marijuana use. After much political wrangling, the law went into effect earlier this year.

The introduction of medical marijuana in Florida has led to an influx of products containing THC. Many of these products, which include different types of candies like gummy bears, contain much higher concentrations of the drug than traditional marijuana. In Palm Beach County alone, several marijuana dispensaries have opened up in the past few months, offering THC-laced foodstuffs and several high-potency strains of marijuana.

While Marijuana has been hailed as a remedy for a number of physical and psychological ailments, from pain management to anxiety reduction, it has also contributed to a new national health problem – an increase in acute psychosis and psychotic episodes, primarily in young adults. THC abuse has long been a problem for many afflicted with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia. Many of the adolescent and young adult patients Dr. Raul Rodriguez sees at his Boca Raton practice who come in for THC abuse also have one of these undiagnosed conditions. Individuals with a mental health disorder that includes psychotic features often use THC as a way to self-medicate. Although this is a long-term trend, the recent rash of THC-related psychotic episodes can be attributed to two things:

Increased Access:

Marijuana has always been accessible, even when it was considered illicit, but the new wave of decriminalization had made the drug even more accessible. In states with medical or recreational marijuana laws, citizens are able to access a variety of marijuana-related products without breaking the law. This increased access normalizes THC use in the community, making it more acceptable for people to use, even if they have a mental health disorder that it might complicate. Studies have indicated that individuals with a mood disorder like bipolar are significantly more likely to self-medicate in states with medical marijuana laws. In states that have these laws on the books, there have been a number of reports of marijuana use triggering manic or psychotic episodes, even in people who did not know they had bipolar disorder or a similar mental health condition.

Increased Potency:

When marijuana was still considered a controlled substance, the illegality of the drug limited how potent it could be. Even still, the marijuana in circulation prior to legalization was still more potent than the marijuana popularized in the 1960s and 70s. With legalization, producers now have the freedom to sell a variety of strains with much higher concentrations of the active ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinol. In addition, dispensaries have been marketing newer products like shatter, a hash oil-like concentrate that often times is 80% or more pure THC. THC is a powerful psychoactive component, and for someone with a mood disorder, consuming such highly concentrated doses of the drug is more likely to cause adverse psychological symptoms like psychosis. The other danger is that individuals mistakenly consume these new, high-powered versions like they would conventional marijuana, causing a psychotic episode.

Know what to do:

If someone has a serious mental health condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, they are more likely to use marijuana in their lifetime. THC can have act as both a stimulant or a depressant effect, so for individuals with mood fluctuations, the drug can cause increased mood instability. While not physiologically addictive like other drugs, such as opioids or alcohol, marijuana can be psychologically addictive, and someone dependent on the drug could suffer from severe anxiety and even panic attacks. If someone you know is demonstrating erratic behavior while using THC, it is vital to have him or her evaluated by a psychiatric professional, preferably one also versed in addiction medicine. THC can negate the effectiveness of psychiatric medications meant to help stabilize the symptoms of severe mental health disorders. And if someone you know is having a psychotic episode, they may require hospitalization so they are not a danger to themselves or others.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez


Existing patients, please text 561-409-7296 for follow-up appointment requests or if you have medication concerns please text 561-409-7296.