Bipolar Disorder


Though I have never used marihuana or any other drugs, I was compelled to write because one of my brother’s has been using marihuana to self-medicate for manic depression for about 25 years, and also because I have twenty years of observations re: my husband’s less frequent usage. Had I not been in a position to witness the usage of two different individuals and their specific purposes for using this substance, I may have developed a different opinion about marihuana and its potential as a medicinal aid for those in need. Also, we had a dear friend who died of a brain tumor at 34 years of age - he was treated at the University of San Francisco Medical Center where there are a few experts in the treatment of brain tumors; he was getting the most up-to-date medical treatment available. He was also employed at this same hospital as a bio-engineer. During different phases of his treatment, he used marihuana to combat the side-effects of the chemotherapy treatments he received (many of which were experimental and quite toxic to the human system). I wasn’t surprised that one of his doctors advised him to use marihuana if he could get access to it - especially for addressing the symptoms of nausea (this was during 1987-1989).

My brother, John, is a diagnosed manic-depressive and has read your previous book and other writings. He did not want to take the time to write, so I told him that I would write to you. John has contributed some time and energy as an advocate for the legalization of marihuana when he lived in Florida. He has recently moved to Mississippi (he has degrees in both electrical and agricultural engineering). He is a very intelligent person though he does lack something in social-emotional development (some of this is related to his inherited mental condition and some to the trauma we endured as children growing up in an extremely abusive home). John began using marihuana as a teenager (approximately 14 years of age) to help control his rage. He continued to use marihuana throughout high school, college, graduate school and beyond. He is not currently using it to manage his symptoms because he has a job with a federal government agency and must submit to random drug testing.

Having been with him just over a year ago, during the time he was being treated by conventional means for manic depression (i.e. more serious drugs with more serious side-effects), I must admit that I was impressed with the relative effectiveness of marihuana as compared to conventional treatment - though I don’t believe that it did as good a job for him as he thinks. He had a very hard time when he was prescribed other drugs and was almost unable to function - not so with marihuana. Given my observations (which have been sporadic, as I live in California) he was seemingly able to manage feelings of anxiety and mania with the marihuana better than with all of the conventional drugs he used. It is definitely more effective than alcohol which is what he does now (he drinks a couple of beers a night in addition to frequent exercise, playing music and tending to his extensive vegetable garden). He refuses to try more conventional medical treatment again as it had such a negative impact upon him. I am not certain that if he had given the conventional route more of a chance, he might have been able to find a successful combination of medication. However, he is not the kind of person who does well going to doctors - I went with him a few times to provide history, and was struck by how unaware and uncommunicative he was regarding his symptoms, history, etc.

According to John, he was able to function well on marihuana and manage his manic rage without side-effects. I suspect that this is at least partially true. I should also add that when he was without access to marihuana, he most definitely experienced episodes of manic rage followed by periods of depression. His worst episodes seemed to coincide with the times his access to marihuana was suddenly cut off. John has had to be admitted to mental health facilities a few times for depression. He also got into trouble with law enforcement about 1 years ago regarding some telephone threats he made to the DEA. during one of his episodes of manic rage (I refer to it as manic rage because I feel there are two components to the etiology of his condition).

My brother’s reasons for using marihuana are different from my husband’s though they both say it reduces stress/anxiety. My husband is also extremely intelligent (he is a graduate of Rice University, a successful architect and exceptional problem-solver with many talents). As was true during the time we grew up (1960’s - 1970’s), many of my friends used and/or experimented with marihuana. I did not - for reasons which I won’t take time to explain, let’s just say that I always had a need to feel in control of my environment. Since I was always lucid/sober, I have had many years of observation time regarding the impact of marihuana on others. Most people who used marihuana in moderation around me were more capable of driving, etc than when they were drinking alcohol. I can absolutely say that I believe people are more able to function while using marihuana than they are with alcohol. In fact, I made my husband discontinue his consumption of alcohol in favor of marihuana when trying to relax at social gatherings so he would be able to drive home safely. He was much better able to manage "appropriate usage" when using marihuana as a method for unwinding and/or reducing stress. I also noticed that he didn’t need to use it frequently (generally he used it on Friday evenings after work) and not in great quantity to get relief of his symptoms. He has always used it responsibly for the twenty years we have been together. He has told me that there were times when he abused marihuana (i.e. took too much to escape when he was a student). My husband is certainly not addicted to marihuana in the way he is addicted to nicotine. He has gone for very long periods of time without it during the course of our marriage. He also quit smoking for four years, and then when we lived in Puerto Rico for four years, he resumed after a year of living there because smoking was so prevalent. He has not yet been able to quit again. I hope that this information is helpful to you, as I have long believed that marihuana ought to be legalized if other substances are. I have not experienced it being an addictive drug, though my brother felt very psychologically dependent upon it (when it has been necessary he is able to do without). Certainly, television is more harmful to society than marihuana. At least people tend to commune together and socialize when they are smoking marihuana - most TV programs are junk, and the impact upon our culture has been incredible (sorry that is another topic).

One final note, my husband does not know I have given you this information and would likely be most upset. Please keep his identity confidential.