Is Cannabis an Effective Treatment for ADHD Sufferers?

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Suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? You may be surprised to learn that cannabis can help with this common condition. Marijuana is often believed to cause a lack of focus. And let’s be real: For some of us, some of the time, it does impart a spacey and unfocused feeling. This sometimes leads people to think that cannabis is terrible for ADHD sufferers. Many are afraid that the plant could worsen focus problems.

But the research doesn’t line up with this common assumption. The science actually suggests that for patients with ADHD, cannabis works to increase focus and attention, while decreasing hyperactivity and impulsivity. This may help explain why so many people with ADHD are choosing to use cannabis to effectively treat some of their symptoms.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder, which causes:

  • Inattentiveness
  • Distractibility
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

ADHD begins in childhood, and in Canada is the most prevalent childhood psychiatric disorder. Half of those with childhood ADHD will eventually grow out of it. But many people continue to suffer from ADHD into adulthood. This collection of traits can lead to challenges managing the many tasks required from home, school or work life.

While no one knows exactly what causes ADHD, scientists have noticed that those with ADHD have less neurotransmitter activity in certain regions of the brain. Studies also show lower levels of dopamine—the neurotransmitter responsible for our feelings of success and reward—in the brains of those with ADHD. Since dopamine also regulates attention and memory, scientists believe this deficiency may be one reason that these patients suffer from lack of focus and attention.

Reports of Cannabis Helping With ADHD

Cannabis consumption has been prevalent among ADHD users for a long time. But for the most part, doctors seemed to dismiss marijuana consumption as a harmful addiction, rather than a medicinal option. But about 10 years ago some doctors started to notice that cannabis seemed eliminate some of their patients’ severe ADHD symptoms.

One case study reports that a 28-year-old male showed “improper behaviour and appeared to be very maladjusted and inattentive while sober,” but then became “completely inconspicuous” in his symptoms after using cannabis. Once he had a very high blood plasma level of delta-9 THC in his system, the man seemed focused and stable. The doctors then put him through a battery of performance, focus and attention tests, and found that he performed much better after consuming cannabis.


The Science of Cannabis for ADHD

Reports like the one above motivated later researchers to investigate these claims further, trying to understand the effects and their underlying mechanism. One controlled study looked at whether cannabis improved ADHD symptoms over a placebo. It found that cannabis consumption was associated with improved scores on measures of hyperactivity, impulsivity, inhibition and inattention. While not definitive, the authors note that “adults with ADHD may represent a subgroup of individuals who experience a reduction of symptoms and no cognitive impairments following cannabinoid use.”

So why is cannabis so effective for ADHD? It all goes back to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This crucial system of neurotransmitters is found all over the body and controls or affects some of its most important functions, such as:

  • Hunger
  • Pain
  • Stress response
  • Memory building
  • Inflammation
  • Sleep
  • Muscle control
  • Energy
  • Mood

The ECS is activated by endocannabinoids that occur naturally in the body, but it also happens to be activated by the chemicals in cannabis.

Interestingly, researchers have found that ADHD is associated with a poorly functioning ECS and misfires in its neurotransmitters. This may be partly responsible for the lower levels of dopamine that we find in patients with ADHD. Those with ADHD may not have the ability to receive the normal level of dopamine because of these misfirings.

Luckily, cannabis has the ability to activate the ECS, facilitating neurotransmitter activity and increasing dopamine levels. For those with ADHD, this can make all the difference, providing immediate relief for a distracted and hyperactive mind.

How to Consume Cannabis for ADHD

ADHD sufferers report benefits from a wide range of cannabis methods and strains, because what works best for one person may not be best for another. That said, often ADHD sufferers prefer products that are rich in THC. THC can boost the dopamine levels in these patients without some of the negative side effects on focus or functionality that we see in others using high-THC products.

Given this fact, a good place to start may be with cannabis flower. An ideal marijuana strain to try might be Jack Herer. This is a balanced strain that consumers report has uplifting qualities that can spark creativity. People say Jack Herer’s stimulating but not overwhelming, perfect for ADHD patients.

You may also want to go for a marijuana oil. A good choice there might be the high-THC formula from Peace Naturals. This will give consumers a full body high that should have them feeling relaxed and focused.

If you’re interested in consuming cannabis for ADHD, a good first step is to talk to a nurse practitioner or doctor with cannabis expertise. Your health practitioner can go over your current conditions and let you know what cannabis options are best suited to you. Need to find a cannabis medical professional? You can video-chat with HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Photo credit: Cassidy Kelley