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Can cannabis cause mania and angry rages?

Alyssa Holley

It’s common knowledge that the effects of cannabis can make most users chilled out and relaxed, however many would agree that when wondering about the other effects, anger and rage would be a less assumed.

Recent reports have stated that cannabis can be a common cause for symptoms of mania, rage and anger, with the Guardian newspaper revealing a story on a 25-year-old who commonly has anger issues in connection with his cannabis addiction.

“I have a 25-year-old son, the younger of two. I believe he is addicted to cannabis, which he says he needs to combat his anxiety. He doesn’t work and has episodes of rage. I help him as much as I can financially without physically handing him cash. When I can’t help him, he turns on me. He threatens me, saying things such as: ‘I don’t want to live any more’,” the mother of the subject explains.

Often addiction can happen as a result of the individual seeking to use the drugs as a coping mechanism for underlying issues or mental problems, in which using a substance can help the person feel better in the short-term without having to directly deal with the initial problem.

The anger this person is experiencing may have more to do with the underlying issue of anxiety and feelings of uselessness that often come as a result of anxiety, as well as not having a job and relying on parents.

This is not the only time reports have distinguished a link between cannabis abuse and angry rages, with a lead researcher at Warwick University stating that cannabis can bring on symptoms of mania.

Critical period

“Cannabis is the most prevalent drug used by the under-18s,” he said.

“During this critical period of development, services should be especially aware of and responsive to the problems cannabis use can cause for adolescent populations.”

“Previously it has been unclear whether cannabis use predates manic episodes.”

However new research states there is a “significant link” between cannabis consumption and manic episodes.

It also presented a link between cannabis use and the potential onset of bipolar disorder, although the reports admits “more research is needed to consider specific pathways from cannabis use to mania”.

The report also noted that cannabis use significantly worsened mania symptoms in people who had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, adding to the theory that the cannabis itself would not create mania for an individual with no underlying issues but rather exacerbates a previously existing issue.

However, in spite of the negativity from the report in terms of the potential impact on mental illnesses, it claims that consuming cannabis can aid symptoms of depression as long term stress can reduce the amount of endocannabinoids in the brain, which ultimately affect motor control, cognition, emotions and behaviour.

The endocannabinoid (EC) system is a communications system in the body and brain that affects how someone feels, moves and reacts. The EC system is active in every person’s body even if they don’t and have never used cannabis.

Endocannabinoids are molecules created by the body, which bind to receptors in the EC system and signal actions that the body needs to take, such as reliving pain or signal to the body when there is inflammation somewhere.

Endocannabinoid levels

Endocannabinoids are very similar to the chemicals present in cannabis and its most well-known active component – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – which means that these external cannabinoids could potentially be used to restore the lost endocannabinoid levels in the brain in those who have suffered these affects due to long-term stress or depression.

It appears that the cannabis may not be causing mania or rage directly, but that the individuals who are experiencing these symptoms may be suffering from mental health issues regardless of the cannabis use, and using something that has documented mental-related effects may be exacerbating the underlying mental issues.

A similar argument is made for cannabis use causing psychotic disorders, in which it can seem easy to draw conclusions that this is true. However, most arguments fail to make the connection between those who are susceptible to psychosis or schizophrenia may demonstrate problematic behaviour such as smoking, abusing drugs and having poor school performance before the cannabis use has started.

The cannabis use in this case is another issue on top of the underlying problems already present, which is a result of the psychotic disorder instead of being the sole causation of it.

Research from the Alcohol and Drug Institute at Washington University also noted a link between cannabis and aggressive behaviour, although it specifically attributed to fits of anger occurring when someone was withdrawing from the drug.

The common perception is that cannabis is not physically addictive and that withdrawal doesn’t come with physical side effects. The report states that users can experience sleep disturbance, nausea, irritability, loss of appetite, sweating and anxiety, all of which could contribute to feelings of anger and aggression.

History of aggression

Someone withdrawing from heavy cannabis use is oftentimes irritable, which can subsequently lead to a higher likelihood of becoming aggressive in those who have a history of aggression.

The report goes on to explain that despite some evidence to show an association between cannabis and violence, there is no definitive correlation between the two and that the violence displayed by cannabis users and non-users often has a multitude of different causes, such as increased life stress, aggressive personality traits, multi drug use and a history of violent behaviour.

Another recent study conducted by Yale researchers found a link between cannabis use and aggressive behaviour in a specific gene which is responsible for regulating cannabis-induced aggression.

Despite the study being limited as it was conducted solely on mice, it demonstrates the potential aggressive response being linked to an individual genetic make-up, in that those subjects who had a missing 2B serotonin receptor gene were more likely to exhibit hyperactivity, aggression and impulsivity.

With more light being shed on the topic, the most recent findings demonstrate a need to study the links further in order to come to a concrete conclusion, as new information opens doors for further research, as reiterated by Juanita Montalvo-Ortiz, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.

Montalvo-Ortiz concluded that: “I think there’s a lot of research that could be done. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it deserves deeper understanding.”

Recent reports have stated that cannabis can be a common cause for symptoms of mania, rage and anger among regular users – but what are the facts?