Among all of the medical uses for marijuana, there is a growing chorus of voices calling for it to be approved as a treatment for ADHD. Are marijuana and ADHD truly compatible – and if so, why?
What Is ADHD?
Everyone daydreams and has attention lapses once in awhile, especially if they’re working on a task that’s monotonous or uninteresting. For those with ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, paying attention is a constant struggle. They have problems with getting organized and staying on task once they begin working on something. They’re frequently hyperactive and tend to fidget or talk excessively, often to the annoyance of others around them.
People with ADHD also tend to make rash, impulsive decisions without thinking them through first. None of this is because they are unable to comprehend facts or are trying to flaunt rules; the brains of people with ADHD simply function differently than those of everyone else.
At best, this can make it frustrating to complete tasks such as schoolwork or (for adults) work-related projects. At worst, it can lead to problems with relationships, holding down a job, and achieving one’s potential in life. A diagnosis of ADHD can help people understand why seemingly simple tasks become insurmountable obstacles that they must struggle to overcome.
The numbers of people diagnosed with the disease are growing; as of 2019, 10 percent of American kids and 4 percent of adults have been identified as having the disorder.
Traditional Treatments for ADHD
ADHD was first identified in 1902 by pediatrician Sir George Still (who described the disorder as “an abnormal defect of moral control in children”). In the century since, there has been a constant search for a remedy that works consistently. Therapy and medication have emerged as the go-to strategies for parents for children with ADHD, as well as people who struggle with the disorder as adults.
For many, therapy can be a wonderful treatment for ADHD. Behavioral therapy can help individuals learn how to change certain behaviors, increase their self-control, and boost self-esteem. Meanwhile, family therapy can help loved ones learn how to assist the person in making these changes.
Prescription medications are often paired with therapy in order to address ADHD on the level of brain chemistry. Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall can often provide relief for ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness, excessive movement, inability to focus and disorganization.
The side effects of these medications can be frustrating, however. Patients often notice a huge decrease in appetite, stomach pains, headaches, problems sleeping, as well as feeling anxious. This can result in individuals with ADHD deciding to simply put up with the symptoms of their disorder rather than deal with the way medications make them feel. It’s this conundrum that sparks many people to look into medical marijuana for ADHD in order to strike a balance between the condition and an effective treatment.
Does Cannabis Help ADHD?
For a long time, scientists focused on the cannabis-ADHD connection in terms of whether people with ADHD had a higher risk of becoming cannabis users. In recent years, however, the focus has shifted to using cannabis as an alternative to prescription medications for the disorder. Could it be that treating ADHD is one of the many health benefits of marijuana?
Cannabis and ADHD might seem like a bad pairing, given that marijuana is often thought of as a substance that causes forgetfulness and lack of focus. However, just like stimulant medications, cannabis works differently on the brains of those who don’t have attention deficit disorder.
Marijuana in the ADHD Brain
How does marijuana work in a brain with ADHD? Due to a chemical imbalance, the brains of people with ADHD become overwhelmed and can’t process all the information that’s being thrown at them. It’s like being in a room with twenty TV sets turned on at top volume, each playing a different channel.
By binding to the brain dopamine particles and keeping levels consistent, stimulant medications can help calm the brain and restore its ability to focus. A medication that would be overstimulating for those without ADHD works in the opposite way for those with the disorder. This is what makes marijuana and ADHD such a fascinating pairing.
Marijuana contains cannabinoids, chemicals that have been proven to be helpful in treating everything from emotional symptoms such as anxiety to physical symptoms such as chronic pain. These cannabinoids can help increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. They do it differently than stimulant medications, but the result is the same: an increased sense of calm, as well as the ability to manage time, get organized, and complete the task at hand. The same strain of cannabis that could render someone without ADHD unable to focus can help someone with this condition function better at work, at home and in life.
As one study pointed out, “Adults with ADHD may represent a subgroup of individuals who experience a reduction of symptoms and no cognitive impairments following cannabinoid use.”
Consuming Medical Marijuana for ADHD
In addition to its effectiveness, proponents of cannabis for ADHD highlight its wide variety of consumption methods and dosing options. While smoking is a popular method of consuming cannabis, studies warn against the lung damage that could be caused from regularly smoking it – even for medical purposes. However, with medical cannabis becoming legally available in a growing number of places, patients now have other options.
Those who wish to take cannabis to get relief from their ADHD symptoms can take a dose in the form of oral sprays or convenient drops. Patches can help deliver medication through the skin. Vaporizers can deliver cannabis extract in a smoke-free form that is easy to dose and kicks in immediately. Children who consume cannabis for ADHD often do well with cannabis-infused treats that make taking their medication a pleasant experience.
Potential Side Effects
- dry mouth
To avoid side effects, patients should always start at the lowest dose possible. They should also work with their healthcare providers to determine if taking multiple small doses throughout the day is necessary to provide optimum relief.
Precautions When Using Marijuana for ADHD
Keep in mind that stopping or altering any medication should always be done under the supervision of a physician. People should also refrain from consuming cannabis or concentrates with prescription medications unless the combination has been approved by their healthcare provider.
Sativa or Indica for ADHD?
When it comes to treating ADHD, marijuana isn’t one-size fits all. Different strains of the plant can have wildly different effects. Typically, sativa strains are stimulating and uplifting while indica strains calm and relax.
As is the case with most medications for psychological conditions, many people find that takes time to find the right cannabis type and dosage that works well to relieve their ADHD. Some find that sativa strains work well to sharpen their focus and keep them engaged in tasks, while others need an indica strain to calm their brain and slow racing thoughts. Hybrid strains provide an excellent in-between option for those who would like a mix of sativa/indica elements to control their ADHD.
Because there are no strict guidelines about strains or dosing, finding the correct combination is often a matter of trial, error, and experimentation.
CBD and ADHD
In addition to whole-plant cannabis as a potential ADHD treatment, people have started looking into CBD treatment for ADHD. CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the many cannabinoids within marijuana. It differs from THC in that it’s not intoxicating; instead, CBD leaves users feeling clear-headed and calm.
That calming factor is the key to using CBD for ADHD, and it has sparked a discussion about its use as an alternative to pharmaceutical ADHD medications. The interest in CBD has grown so strong that some parents have even contacted their local school districts about administering CBD oil to their children during school hours. Some adults with the disorder report that vaping CBD delivers a sense of calm and focus that helps them get things accomplished.
What Do Research Studies Show?
Does marijuana help ADHD, or are the reports of relief merely due to the placebo effect? Researchers insist that further study is needed to understand more about the effectiveness of using marijuana for ADHD. The initial research has revealed promising results, however. A 2008 study by researchers at the Heidelberg University Medical Center found that in some people with ADHD, “the consumption of cannabis had a positive impact on performance, behavior and mental state of the subject.”
If there are few studies on ADHD and marijuana, there are even fewer on the effectiveness of a CBD treatment for ADHD. The little research that has been conducted has been favorable for CBD proponents, however. One study showed that CBD inhibited hyperactivity in rats.
Those who suffer from ADHD also tend to experience anxiety and depression as secondary symptoms to their ADHD. This exacerbates an already frustrating situation. Multiple studies into the effects of cannabis have shown that it is effective at treating both anxiety and depression. This makes cannabis a dual-impact treatment, as it addresses the primary condition as well as the secondary conditions that are frequently caused by it.
Indeed, medical providers have begun to look at cannabis as a potential treatment for ADHD in both their adult and juvenile patients. Some physicians have started opting for cannabis as a safer, more natural option for children who suffer from ADHD and other neuropsychiatric conditions.
ADHD and Marijuana: A World of Alternative Treatments
For many years, individuals with ADHD were faced with a daunting choice: struggle with their disorder or deal with the often unpleasant side effects of stimulant medications. Medical marijuana for ADHD is offering a world of alternatives in terms of effects, strains, and consumption methods. Using CBD for ADHD provides even more options without the high associated with whole-plant marijuana.
While research on the subject has been scarce, the studies that have been done point in one direction: especially when pharmaceutical medications aren’t well-tolerated, marijuana for ADHD can provide effective relief for those with this frustrating and sometimes debilitating disorder.
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