Lithium Superior to Other Mood Stabilizers in a Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Youth

February 1, 2019 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

teenagers

At a late-2018 scientific meeting, researcher Danella Hafeman and colleagues reported some results of the Course and Outcome of Bipolar Youth (COBY) study. The study includes long-term follow up of 413 youth with bipolar disorder, who ranged in age from 7 to 17 years old. Hafeman and colleagues reported that taking lithium more than 75% of the time was linked to fewer suicide attempts, fewer depressive symptoms, and fewer psychosocial difficulties than taking another mood stabilizer (such as an atypical antipsychotic, lamotrigine, or valproic acid) more than 75% of the time after adjusting for demographic variables.

Despite the limitations of observational studies such as this one, the authors concluded, “Our findings are consistent with studies in adult populations, showing that lithium (compared to other mood stabilizers) is associated with decreased suicidality, less depression, and better psychosocial functioning. Given the paucity of evidence regarding lithium in children and adolescents, these findings have important clinical implications for the pharmacological management of youth with [bipolar disorder].”

Editor’s Note: These observations are consistent with several other studies. Researcher Barbara Geller and colleagues observed in eight years of follow up of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder that those who were treated with lithium spent more time in remission than those who took other medicines. A randomized controlled study by researcher Robert Findling and colleagues documented that maintenance lithium treatment was more effective than placebo at preventing bipolar episodes. Together, these data suggest that lithium should be used more often in the long-term treatment of children with bipolar disorder.

Way ahead of his time in about 1993, the renowned child psychiatrist Dennis Cantwell said something like this: “If I had an adolescent child with a first manic episode, I would have him stay on lithium for the rest of his life.” He seems to have been prescient, as evidence of the many benefits of lithium over other alternatives in the treatment of both children and adults has been accumulating.

An open-access review article this editor (Robert M. Post) published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in 2017, “The New News about Lithium: An Underutilized Treatment in the United States,” argues that lithium’s many benefits have been underestimated, while its side effects have been overestimated. It is my view that it would be beneficial if lithium were more often included in the treatment regimen of adults as well as children and adolescents with bipolar disorder.

Lithium has an astounding range of effectiveness. It prevents recurrent depressions and suicide (even in those with unipolar depression), increases hippocampal and cortical volume, protects memory, and increases the length of telomeres (the end portions of chromosomes that protect them as they replicate). In multiple animal models of neurological diseases, it has also been found to be neuroprotective and to reduce the size of brain lesions.

National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Issues Report on the Health Effects of Cannabis

May 8, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments, Resources, Risk Factors · Comment 

The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for ResearchIn early 2017, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued its first comprehensive report on cannabis since 1999. Shifting public opinion over the past few decades has led to 28 states and the District of Columbia legalizing medical uses of marijuana, and eight states and DC legalizing recreational marijuana use. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research is intended to address the lack of accepted standards to guide individuals in deciding whether and how to use cannabis safely. In addition to summarizing recent health-related findings on cannabis, the report also offers recommendations to guide future research.

The report shares findings about possible therapeutic benefits to cannabis use as well as health impacts relating to areas such as cancer, respiratory disease, immunity, pre- and post-natal health.

There were several notable findings with regard to mental health. The committee that issued the report found substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most frequent users.

The committee also found moderate evidence of a link between cannabis use and increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in people with bipolar disorder who use cannabis regularly. The report also describes moderate evidence of an association between heavy cannabis use and increased suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

There was also moderate evidence that regular cannabis use is linked to social anxiety disorder.

The report described factors that may lead to problem cannabis use. The committee found substantial evidence that being male, smoking cigarettes, and beginning cannabis use at an earlier age are risk factors for developing problem cannabis use. Read more