Weed and Psychosis: The Brain-Melting Effect on My Bipolar Brain

Writer Jasmine Ledesma explores the connection between weed and psychosis on her brain, as someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar.

I was floating, gloating. As I waited for the train to pummel my way, my black shadow hung over the bench as I stood facing the wrong direction. I was stoned. 

A couple of hours earlier my friend had split a piece of an edible with me, a gift from a close friend in Boston. I placed the piece of lacy dark chocolate onto my tongue. Flat as a dollar bill and sweet as the moon. I consider myself straight-edge by necessity given my diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. My abstinence could be reckoned with for one night. 

What was the worst that could happen? 

An hour passed by and the room started to slow down. My friend’s six-week-old grey kitten played with pink strings on the carpet below us as an episode of The Office ran by on her computer screen, an array of flashing colors glazed over our faces. It was getting dark and I was getting high.

My friend and I had been sitting in silence for a few minutes, our thoughts decidedly whirring in the back of our throats. I didn’t want to speak. I decided it was time to go home a few minutes later. As I walked to the train station I FaceTimed with a friend from back home in Houston, my high brain continuously forgetting what I was saying as I was speaking, causing my friend to crack up laughing.

“This is so weird,” I said as I crossed the street and headed up the stairs to the train. 

“Be safe!” my friend declared before we hung up. 

I peered down the long empty train track. Milliseconds flew over my head like a pack of funny little seagulls. As I rode the train, I could hear the thoughts of those around me. What is she doing here? What’s wrong with her? 

A girl sat a few seats away from me, one who I mistook for an old friend I met my freshman year of college with long black hair and a cropped tee. I stared the girl down from my seat, wondering why she was ignoring me. When was she going to come over and catch up? I got off the train at my stop into the dark, open night. 

I walked into the deli across the street from my building. I ordered an everything bagel and as the man behind the counter sliced the bread in half and toasted it I tried to remember what it was I was waiting for. It was only when he gave me the brown paper bag that I remembered and traded him my card. It was as though the world was an ocean I was trying desperately to cross. As though everything was moving both too slow and too fast for me to catch onto any one moment. 

I spent too long unlocking my front door with the bronze key I had used for years. I ate half the bagel and fell into a deep current of sleep. 

I slept for eleven hours. In the morning I woke up feeling grounded, back on earth. I poured myself a bowl of frozen blueberries covered in crystalized fur. I began my research, thinking back to the night. What was that? 

I did a series of Google searches as the morning light stepped past my beige curtains. 

Does weed make you crazy? 

I ate an edible and hallucinated? 

Weed and psychosis connection? 

I was on the right path. Though not well documented and infrequently spoken about, there is a link between THC, the chemical responsible for the psychoactive element in weed, and the presence of psychosis, or a break with reality where delusions and hallucinations are the main symptoms. THC is more potent when taken in an edible form than smoking.   

In a piece regarding this difference for Vice, Troy Farah writes, “When you smoke marijuana, THC gets sucked into your bloodstream via the alveoli in the lungs. But THC is an oil-soluble compound, meaning it doesn’t break down well in blood, which is mostly water.” He goes on to elaborate that, “when you ingest cannabis, your saliva immediately starts to break down that THC.” 

This fast-impacting breakdown results in a much stronger high. This high is much more likely to either further already-established psychosis or introduce psychosis in those more vulnerable to the risk of developing it. 

COMHS, a community dedicated to providing accessible healthcare to the Chicago area, reported on a study that stated, “daily marijuana use may increase the risk of a first-time psychotic episode by three to five times, depending on the potency of the pot.”  

I first developed bipolar disorder when I was sixteen. I spent that summer speaking to myself beneath the covers at night, feeling light and chosen. As I got older and as my condition worsened, I was warned more and more. Doctors, wearing white-linen coats and looks of clean concern would beckon me to stray from substances.

You really don’t need to be doing any of that,” one psychiatrist told me when I was twenty-one. But nobody had ever given me an exact or earnest answer regarding what would happen if I did partake in substances. 

Alcohol makes me manic and therefore, psychotic. A beer at the beach one evening and three days later I’ll feel like a glass swan walking through the street, a pop-star in my beaten Converse shoes. Because this response is definite, I never drink. But I’d gotten high a handful of times in my life, more recently with my cousin. My response always varied. Sometimes, I’d get giggly and find everything charming. Oh so wonderful! Other times, I’d lay on the couch as I wondered if my father was plotting against me. As I heard little bits of music where there was none. I thought it was normal. I never questioned my reactions. I always figured hallucinating was part of the experience of getting high.

I had to find out that this wasn’t correct on my own. I had never properly been educated on the risks of ingesting THC when considering my mental illness, only ever vaguely told not to do it. I had to find out the effects on my own. I am not alone in my experience. As weed continues to be legalized across the country, with New York being the latest to legalize it, weed-induced psychosis should not be left out of the conversation. Those at risk should be better and more thoroughly warned on the effects and should have further access to more elaborative studies regarding those effects. 

We deserve that much.

Written by Jasmine Ledesma

Feature image by Tsareva Olga/Adobe Stock

Jasmine Ledesma

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