Medical Cannabis for ADHD: The Current State of Research04 November 2022
- ADHD is a complex disorder that can significantly impact the lives of those affected. While many effective treatments are available to manage ADHD symptoms, many people with the disorder struggle with managing their symptoms and leading productive lives.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis use can help with various ADHD symptoms like inability to focus, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. However, more research is needed to establish the efficacy of cannabis for ADHD treatment.
- Medical cannabis is believed to help with ADHD-like symptoms because of how it affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays a vital role in mood regulation, memory, and concentration, so it’s not surprising that medical cannabis is believed to help people with ADHD.
- Many of those who use cannabis for ADHD self-administer. However, this is not recommended, as self-administration can cause more harm than good.
- At any rate, the jury is still out on whether cannabis can effectively treat ADHD. Many variables affect how cannabis affects each person and their symptoms, so it’s essential to consult a medical professional before using medical cannabis for ADHD treatment.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects an estimated 5% of adults and 20% of children. It’s one of the most common neurobehavioural disorders affecting children, adolescents, and adults.
ADHD can make it difficult to focus, sit still, and control impulsive behaviour. People with ADHD may also have sleep problems, anxiety and depression, learning disabilities or other issues that make it difficult for them to function at home, school, or in their jobs.
Although there is no cure for ADHD, many treatments available can help manage symptoms. These include medications, behavioural therapy, CBT, and more.
The variety and availability of such treatment options do not necessarily equate to success. With an increasing interest in non-traditional medicine, medical cannabis for ADHD is becoming more popular. For many people living with ADHD, medical cannabis has been reported to be an effective way to alleviate the symptoms and control the side effects of standard prescribed medication.
But should patients look into medical cannabis to treat ADHD symptoms? Is it as safe and effective as anecdotal evidence suggests? We’ll discuss everything you need to know about medical cannabis for ADHD, what the current research says, and how people might use it to address the disorder.
What is ADHD?
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about 2-4% of people in the UK. The term ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder is sometimes used interchangeably with ADHD, but this is inaccurate. ADD is a condition that refers specifically to inattentive type ADHD (more on that later).
The disorder is usually caused by a difference in brain chemistry that makes it difficult for people with ADHD to focus their attention on tasks. Some symptoms of ADHD include:
- trouble paying attention
- being easily distracted by things around them
- feeling restless or agitated most days
- having difficulty sitting still without fidgeting
ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, but the symptoms don’t disappear as patients age. They must be treated throughout one’s life because they can cause serious problems with relationships, schoolwork, and work. Doctors recommend that people with ADHD also get treated as adults.
What are ADHD Symptoms?
The symptoms of ADHD are divided into two categories: hyperactivity and inattention:
- Hyperactivity – The first category includes symptoms like fidgeting and restlessness, making it challenging to sit still or pay attention.
- Inattention – The second category includes symptoms like being easily distracted by things around the patient and trouble concentrating on tasks.
Unfortunately, ADHD diagnosis is a tricky process. People with ADHD can have different symptoms and severity levels, so doctors need to look at all the symptoms together before making a diagnosis.
Furthermore, the symptoms of ADHD can overlap with other conditions, like anxiety and depression. This can make it difficult to determine whether the patient has ADHD or another condition altogether.
The difficulty in diagnosing ADHD means that only approximately 10-20% of the population with the disorder will ever receive an actual diagnosis. This is a problem because, without the proper treatment, people with ADHD can struggle to function and may even be considered lazy or unmotivated.
Why are some people turning to medical cannabis for ADHD?
For those who are experiencing frustrations with conventional medicine, medical cannabis is seen as an alternative treatment strategy. Some see it as a natural alternative given its plant-based nature. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis has fewer side effects than conventional medications like Ritalin and Adderall.
Some of the common side effects of conventional ADHD medications include the following:
- Loss of appetite
Crowdsourced data has shown that cannabis use is linked to positive outcomes among ADHD patients. However, the majority of those who take cannabis for the disorder self-medicate. This delivery method can lead to complications since it’s difficult to monitor the dosage and determine whether it’s working.
In fact, a 2016 qualitative study of 401 online posts found that about 25% percent of posters reported a reduction in anxiety symptoms. A significant number also referenced the support of their doctors concerning their cannabis treatment.
It’s also important to note that ADHD is a complex condition that cannot be treated with one particular remedy. Some people find that they need more than one medication to get their desired results. Others may not respond well at all. As such, seeking professional medical advice is the first step when considering cannabis as a potential treatment for ADHD.
Here at The Medical Cannabis Clinics, we are dedicated to providing a safe and professional environment for patients who wish to explore the benefits of medical cannabis. Our team of physicians is committed to helping you understand the effects of cannabis on your particular condition and any potential interactions with other medications you’re taking.
How medical cannabis works
Medical cannabis treatments come from the Cannabis sativa plant. One of the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant THC acts on specific receptors in the body to produce its effects. Medical cannabis interacts with the central nervous system (CNS) via several pathways, including the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a group of receptors found throughout the body and brain. CBD is another active compound found in medical cannabis and has been shown to have anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
These compounds work together with the ECS to regulate different processes, including mood regulation, pain management, appetite control and more. The ECS is involved in many processes that affect ADHD symptoms.
Does medical cannabis work for ADHD or ADD?
Research shows that medical cannabis may help with some symptoms of ADHD. Most findings are still anecdotal evidence, but new studies have brought empirical data to light.
In a 2008 case report published by the Institute of Legal and Traffic Medicine Germany, physicians concluded that cannabis could help regulate hyperactivity among ADHD patients. They added that consumption of the medication had positive impacts on performance and behaviour.
Though the mechanism behind the effects of cannabis on ADHD is still unknown, the researchers suggested that its effects do not appear in healthy individuals. Some researchers have proposed that cannabinoids could help to calm hyperactivity and impulsivity in ADHD patients. Another study found that cannabis consumption had positive effects on focus and attention.
There is also anecdotal evidence from people who have used medical cannabis for ADHD and found it helpful. However, self-medication has also been linked to cannabis use disorder – a common problem with ADHD patients as well.
Cannabis may have acute beneficial effects
A 2021 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that participants with ADHD self-reported positive effects on hyperactivity and impulsivity. In particular, the study found that participants with ADHD reported feeling more focused and attentive after using cannabis.
Hyperactivity is defined as an overactive state that can be observed in patients with ADHD. It manifests in fidgeting, excessive talking, difficulty sitting still and other signs that are usually indicative of a state of arousal.
The participants also said that cannabis use also made them less impulsive. Impulsivity is defined as a tendency to act or speak without thinking first and can be a symptom of ADHD and other mental health disorders.
Though this is one of many studies that suggest cannabis may have an acute beneficial effect, it is important to note that it included a small sample size. The researchers concluded that frequent use might help alleviate ADHD-related executive dysfunction. Still, the researchers caution that more research is needed before cannabis can be recommended for people with ADHD.
Cannabis may help with anxiety associated with ADHD
People with ADHD have increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression. ADHD can affect a person’s ability to cope with stress, and they may be more likely than those without ADHD to develop anxiety disorders.
Cannabis may help treat ADHD-related anxiety by acting on receptors that are responsible for the regulation of emotions. The use of cannabis can provide short-term benefits to mood disorders, a 2017 review suggests.
Here’s a breakdown of how some cannabinoids can affect anxiety:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive component of cannabis. This cannabinoid may reduce anxiety symptoms at lower dosages but may worsen them at higher doses.
- Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to have an anxiolytic or calming effect on anxiety. Cannabidiol may have antioxidant properties that could help reduce stress at all doses.
Still, patients with mood disorders should seek professional advice before using cannabis as a therapeutic or treatment option. Frequent cannabis use leads to developing tolerance over time, especially if the doses are not controlled.
Using cannabis to treat ADHD-related anxiety or depression can be helpful as an adjunct therapy. However, it’s important to talk with your doctor before taking any cannabis medications or supplements.
Our specialists at The Medical Cannabis Clinics can help you find the right treatment for your symptoms and conditions. We offer an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment plan for patients who are interested in medical cannabis as a therapeutic option.
Cannabis may help boost dopamine levels in ADHD patients
In a 2017 randomised control trial, researchers found that administering Sativex (a medically-approved cannabis medication) led to positive outcomes in focus. Specifically, the study found that those with ADHD who took Sativex performed better in the Qbtest (an objective assessment of attention) than those who took a placebo.
The researchers speculated that the increase in dopamine levels due to Sativex treatment was responsible for this improvement. One of the hallmarks of ADHD brain chemistry is low dopamine levels. This is why stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are such effective ADHD medications—they increase dopamine levels in the brain and help alleviate symptoms of the disorder.
According to the authors of the study, their findings suggest that “the general calming effects of cannabis could have led to reductions in feelings of restlessness and impulsive behaviour in adults with ADHD, potentially leading to reductions in ADHD symptoms.”
Cannabis may improve focus and executive function
A study published in the journal Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids in 2022 reported that three male participants experienced the following outcomes:
- Depression improved from 8–22 points (30–81%)
- Anxiety improved from 0–27 (up to 33%)
- Emotional regulation improved from 2–8 (22–78%)
- Inattention improved from 2–8 (7–30%)
One important thing to note is that cannabis was used together with other medications (e.g., mood stabilisers, antidepressants, and stimulants). Patients found that cannabis use complimented the other medications to provide a more balanced effect.
Like other studies, however, the research is limited because it only looked at a small sample of individuals. It also relied on the patients’ accounts, which may not be the most reliable method. The researchers concluded that further research is necessary to fully understand how cannabis can be used in combination with other medications for ADHD.
Risks associated with cannabis for ADHD
The main risk associated with using cannabis for ADHD is the possibility of developing a dependence on the substance. Although research has shown that cannabis can be used as an effective treatment for ADHD, it can also cause symptoms similar to those seen in other substance use disorders.
Individuals who use cannabis may feel anxious or paranoid when they do not have access to the substance, leading them to abuse it more frequently than they intended. ADHD patients who self-medicate with cannabis may develop cannabis use disorder (CUD). CUD is a condition that includes symptoms such as:
- A strong desire or urge to use cannabis
- Failure to meet work, school or home responsibilities due to using cannabis
- Using more cannabis than intended
- Inability to stop using cannabis even when there are negative consequences related to the substance (e.g., financial problems, relationship problems)
As such, patients seeking to try cannabis should first consult with a doctor to determine if it is the proper treatment for them. If so, they should also be counselled on how to use cannabis safely and appropriately.
Conclusion – Medical Cannabis and ADHD
ADHD is a chronic condition that can be managed with medications, therapy and other lifestyle changes. Medical cannabis may also play a role in the treatment of some patients with ADHD. However, more research is needed to determine whether cannabis can effectively treat the symptoms of ADHD or if it is safe to use long-term.
If you have ADHD and are considering medical cannabis, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. You should also be aware that cannabis may have side effects and interactions with other medications. Finally, if your doctor recommends medical cannabis as a treatment option for ADHD, they may recommend dosage to try first.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the best way to support someone with ADHD?
The best way to support someone with ADHD is to understand and empathise with their feelings but also try to help them find ways of coping with their symptoms. This might include finding a treatment that works for them and helping them stick to it!
Can you get a cannabis prescription for ADHD in the UK?
Yes, you can get a cannabis prescription for ADHD in the UK. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that every person with ADHD will benefit from using cannabis.
Can you get a medical cannabis card for ADHD?
Yes, you can get a medical cannabis card for free. Medical cannabis patients can now sign up for a legal ID card, proving that they have been legally prescribed.
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