Disclaimer: Cannabis, both medical and recreational, is very controversial and illegal in a great deal of the US and world. The views I express here, unless otherwise indicated, are my own. My experience should not be taken as anything but that, my experience and mine alone. It is not an endorsement of cannabis or any other drug. Only you can decide what helps you feel your best.
One of our readers asks: “I have a question… why is the only thing that seems to make my son seem half normal is to self-medicate? When he is stoned he seems to manage so well and seems so at peace and able to cope… but as soon as his buzz wears off he is crazy angry again? 😦 It is a lose/lose situation.”
This is what the experts have to say on the issue:
“…individuals with BPD may turn to psychoactive substances to self-medicate. The self-medication hypothesis is a psychoanalytically informed theory of drug addiction. This means that it includes the emotional and psychological dimensions in viewing addiction as a compensatory means to modulate effects from stressful states that are unmanageable for an individual. …nearly half of those with BPD have histories of substance use disorder. Rates of current and lifetime substance use vary from 14 to 72 percent. Other researchers have found a lifetime comorbidity rate of substance use disorder and BPD of 63.5 percent. This data demonstrates a clear relationship between substance use disorders and borderline personality.” http://www.borderline-personality-disorder.com/co-occuring-disorders/substance-abuse/
I think my experience supports this. I started having emotional problems in grammar school and smoked pot the first time when I was 12. I didn’t feel anything from it and didn’t try again until I was 14, when things had gotten really out of control for me emotionally. That time something magical happened, the pain in my mind and body was dulled to a bearable level for the first time in my life
I was 15 when I was diagnosed with borderline and I have been self medicating with cannabis for the past 30 years. There is no “anti-borderline” drug. I have tried all of the psychiatric medications that the doctors wanted to put me on, and none of them worked.
Worse than that, some made things worse for me. On some drugs I was paranoid, on some I was constantly suicidal, on some I was eating and smoking cigarettes in my sleep (I set my bedding on fire once because of “sleep smoking” and didn’t realize I was burning), on almost every one I experienced severe weight gain and on some I had fantasies of committing violence against myself and others.
Many times I was court ordered to take the drugs because I was on probation, no matter what they were doing to me, or I would go to jail. Eventually I refused to take any more psych drugs and that choice cost me my freedom for a year. When I finally got off probation I knew I had to get out of that place.
I moved to CA for the mental health services and the medical cannabis laws. I was homeless my first year here, but it was better than jail. No one was forcing me to take drugs that harmed me and no one was arresting me for using the drug that helped me. That change in my legal status and the proper treatment with DBT completely changed my life around. Today I am accomplishing things I thought were not possible. But I also wouldn’t be able to keep doing these amazing things if I didn’t have cannabis to ease my severe anxiety symptoms.
There is a lot of conflicting information on cannabis out there. Some studies say it can cause psychosis and others say it reduces mortality in those with severe mental health struggles such as schizophrenia and psychosis.
“We observed a lower mortality risk in cannabis-using psychotic disorder patients compared to cannabis non-users despite subjects having similar symptoms and treatments. Future research is warranted to replicate these findings and to shed light on the anti-inflammatory properties of the endocannabinoid system and its role in decreased mortality in people with psychotic disorders.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392453/ )
I know for a fact that cannabis has saved my life repeatedly. I can’t count the number of times I was battling urges to self-harm or thoughts of suicide and just a couple of hits eased those thoughts until they were gone. The only exception to this is when I smoke a pure sativa strain.
Most of the people I know who use cannabis prefer sativa strains but I have to avoid them like the plague. When I use sativa my baseline symptoms increase. As a baseline I become very overwhelmed by my emotions and cry about every little thing, I get irritated and aggressive. I am anxious and agitated; I often feel as if I am crawling out of my skin. The hardest symptom to deal with is having obsessive suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm.
It took some time to realize there was a connection between my symptoms increasing rather than decreasing at these times. Before I had access to high quality medical cannabis I never knew about strains and had no idea what I was smoking. I just knew that I seemed to have these times when it made things worse rather than helping like it usually does. When I learned more and had access to a choice I started to realize the pattern. Since then I have not had any problems with adverse side effects.
Cannabis comes in 3 main varieties of strains:
- Cannabis indica. Indica strains are described by many as a “body high” or “couch lock” (meaning you can feel lethargic).
- Cannabis sativa. Sativa strains are described by many as a “head high” and are popular among artists and active folks.
- Strains that are bred to have genes from both varieties called hybrids. Hybrids have differing ratios of indica to sativa with wide ranging combinations of effects so people can tailor it to their specific needs.
All 3 have several active compounds including the most popular one-THC. THC is the ingredient in cannabis that makes you feel high. CBD is another ingredient and is thought to be responsible for relaxation and pain relief. It is also thought to balance out the THC so that you don’t get “too high”. Sativas have very little or no CBD so the THC is much more powerful. (I personally believe that sativas could be the cause when psychosis does develop.)
There are also several ways you can ingest cannabis.
- Smoking it is probably the most common and well known method, but it is far from the only one.
- Another way to use cannabis is to vaporize it, that is to heat it up just enough that the active ingredients vaporize for inhalation, but won’t heat it up nearly enough to actually burn the plant matter. This way no smoke is produced or inhaled, it is more like an asthma inhaler.
- Butter and oil can be infused with cannabis, baked or cooked into food items and eaten. This method can be difficult to regulate the dosage of as it can take several hours to feel the effects. This can lead to someone believing they need another dose to be effective before the first dose takes effect and becoming more medicated than intended. (Fortunately, you can not die from a cannabis overdose but it can make you sleep through your responsibilities the next day.)
- Alcohol based tinctures that absorb and produce effects more quickly when placed under the tongue.
All of these methods produce a slightly different and longer lasting psychoactive effect on the user than smoking does.
Many people who support cannabis think it is a perfectly safe miracle cure-all, but there are risks and limits to its abilities. Just like psychiatric medication you get at a pharmacy, cannabis has side effects. For some people they are mild and tolerable (even enjoyable). For others they are severe and disrupt their lives. I honestly believe that while cannabis can cause psychosis in certain people, for others, it can be the best thing for controlling their symptoms. Penicillin has saved millions of lives since its discovery, but it will kill me if I take it. Every person is different.
There are some side effects of cannabis that I don’t care for, but I find them more tolerable than psych drug side effects. It slows me down a bit more than I would like sometimes, but not as much as anti-anxiety drugs would. It gives me the munchies sometimes, but I don’t eat anywhere near as much (or in my sleep) as on anti-depressants or mood stabilizers. It can sometimes affect my short term memory, but at least I am fully aware of where I am and what I am doing, unlike when I was on other psych drugs. And honestly, when I am stuck in a negative thought pattern it is a good thing to forget what I was doing. 🙂
I believe that every human being should have the right to decide for themselves what is helpful to them and what is harmful. For years I was not allowed to make that choice, the “system” made my choices for me. I had to deal with the stigma and consequences of not being able to live with the choices made for me and making my own.
I believe so deeply that cannabis keeps my symptoms in check 98% of the time that I gave up everything I had and everyone I knew to be homeless in California for a year in order to move here. It was the best decision of my life. I finally got effective mental health treatment and stopped being arrested for trying to survive my condition.
My life isn’t great, not by a long shot, but it is the best it has ever been and getting better every day. I couldn’t have made it this far without the help of BOTH cannabis and effective BPD treatment. I am grateful to finally have power in choosing what is most effective for me.