Given the increasing acceptability and legalization of cannabis in some jurisdictions, clinicians need to improve their understanding of the effect of cannabis use on mood disorders.
The purpose of this task force report is to examine the association between cannabis use and incidence, presentation, course and treatment of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, and the treatment of comorbid cannabis use disorder.
We conducted a systematic literature review using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, searching PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from inception to October 2020 focusing on cannabis use and bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, and treatment of comorbid cannabis use disorder. The Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) approach was used to evaluate the quality of evidence and clinical considerations were integrated to generate Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments recommendations.
Of 12,691 publications, 56 met the criteria: 23 on bipolar disorder, 21 on major depressive disorder, 11 on both diagnoses and 1 on treatment of comorbid cannabis use disorder and major depressive disorder. Of 2,479,640 participants, 12,502 were comparison participants, 73,891 had bipolar disorder and 408,223 major depressive disorder without cannabis use. Of those with cannabis use, 2,761 had bipolar disorder and 5,044 major depressive disorder. The lifetime prevalence of cannabis use was 52%–71% and 6%–50% in bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, respectively. Cannabis use was associated with worsening course and symptoms of both mood disorders, with more consistent associations in bipolar disorder than major depressive disorder: increased severity of depressive, manic and psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder and depressive symptoms in major depressive disorder. Cannabis use was associated with increased suicidality and decreased functioning in both bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Treatment of comorbid cannabis use disorder and major depressive disorder did not show significant results.
The data indicate that cannabis use is associated with worsened course and functioning of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Future studies should include more accurate determinations of type, amount and frequency of cannabis use and select comparison groups which allow to control for underlying common factors.