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There is public disagreement on the credibility of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a diagnosis. Some refuse to believe that it is a real mental disorder. Instead, they claim it is a mere personality trait. While others–particularly those who have received a diagnosis–attest that it is a real disorder and that they have found treatment very helpful.
Overall, the public agrees on one point: There has been over-diagnosing of ADHD in both children and adults. For the purpose of this article, I will stray from the controversy and simply discuss cannabis use by ADHD patients. Does cannabis help patients manage their ADHD?
Symptoms of ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a varied condition and is thought to have a range of causes and symptoms. It is always characterized by the individual showing concerning levels of hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD can cause lack of focus, high energy, and restlessness. Those diagnosed feel out of control of their symptoms. The memory can be also be affected and completing daily tasks is difficult.
Both children and adults can suffer from ADHD, though children are more likely to be diagnosed, with more than 7% of them being diagnosed with ADHD, compared to the 3-4% of adults. Children with ADHD may find it difficult to pay attention at school, sit still, or refrain from disruptive behavior. This can severely impact their education, their social development, and their relationships with peers and adults.
Therefore, it is understandable that many parents turn to professional help to address their child’s ADHD. Some argue that the over medicalization of children is dangerous, but many kids have benefited from being diagnosed with ADHD and found medical treatment effective.
The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual 5 (DSM5) has recently expanded the definition of ADHD, but there remains no fixed way of diagnosing the condition. ADHD is defined as a “persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”
For children, symptoms have to persist for at least 6 months. For adolescents, however, only five symptoms necessary for a diagnosis. There is no definitive difference between Attention Deficit Disorder, ADD, and ADHD. If you think you or someone you know might have ADHD, you should speak to a doctor. They will put you in contact with a specialist who might be able to help.
Treatments for ADHD
Treating ADHD can be very difficult. Talk therapies are only so effective, partially because the patient is required to focus for long periods of time to make progress. This process can be time consuming. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other forms of behavioural therapies can be effective, and they are usually done in combination with some form of medication.
The most common drugs used for treating ADHD are stimulants, such as: Adderall, Focaline, Dexedrine, Ritalin and Mydayis. The effects are varied and if they are effective or ineffective depends on the patient. There is considerable public concern over the overuse and misuse of these drugs, particularly within paediatric medicine.
The majority of people with ADHD say the stimulants bring some relief from their ADHD symptoms. The long term effects on the patient’s development are not yet understood, but if the drug means the difference between attending school or failing, the medicine is often the more viable choice.
Can Cannabis Help ADHD?
Cannabis is an upcoming alternative to a range of mainstream prescription drugs. Cannabis has been used for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years. One study looked at forum posts from people with ADHD, and found that “(25%) percent of individual posts indicated cannabis is therapeutic for ADHD, as opposed to 8% that it is harmful, 5% that it is both therapeutic and harmful, and 2% that it has no effect on ADHD.” We few official studies but the individual experiences may indicate a benefit of looking into cannabis as a treatment option.
Cannabis has long been used to manage mental health issues. Due to the prohibition by Western governments, medical cannabis did not get proper scientific attention. Only recently has the question “can cannabis help ADHD?” began to be researched and, even now, only sparsely.
To some, marijuana and ADHD might seem like a terrible combination, but that is probably due to misconceptions about cannabis. Marijuana was long portrayed as a dangerous drug with no medical value. Governments went so far as to spread misinformation and fear about the drug, connecting it to crime, mental illness, and immigrants. The real impact of cannabis not likely to send push people to insanity, unlike in the unintentionally hilarious American propaganda video from the 1930’s, Reefer Madness.
Thankfully, medical cannabis is starting to be less stigmatized and more readily available. Cannabis seems to have neuroprotective effects. It basically helps the brain heal and protects it from harm. However, there is a small risk to young people who smoke large quantities of the drug and have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, but the number is slim.
Cannabis has a mood stabilizing effect and, unlike prescribed drugs, acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. It provides a degree of calmness that can be enormously helpful to patients. The drug also increases dopamine levels and overall brain chemicals. It remains to be scientifically proven if cannabis can treat ADHD but, due to large numbers of ADHD patients self-medication with cannabis, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is at least beneficial to some.
One study, using 30 patients, who they tested first for cognitive functions, found positive association. They first tested half of the participants with Sativex Oromucosal Spray (a concentrated form of cannabis) and then tested the other half with a placebo. They found that “Adults with ADHD may represent a subgroup of individuals who experience a reduction of symptoms and no cognitive impairments following cannabinoid use.” This is potentially great news given the concerns regarding traditional treatment.
One of the major complaints about drugs taken for ADHD is that they can reduce creativity and cognitive functioning. Patients often complain that they feel dull on the medicine. This is unlike cannabis which seems to help with the symptoms and allow the patients to remain creative. Actually, cannabis is often taken recreationally because of its benefits for creativity and increased brain activity.
Studies on how ADHD develops in children and the effects of cannabis on children are both in their infancy. The conclusion of one study was that “cannabis use does not exacerbate ADHD-related alterations,” but also warned “this finding awaits replication in a larger sample.” With future study, our understanding of the relationship between cannabis and ADHD will develop. As of now, scientific literature on the matter is sparse.
The Canadian Pediatric Society concludes that more evidence is needed before prescribing cannabis to children, with the possible exception of some forms of epilepsy. It is suggested that there could be “significant adverse effects in children” and the risks should be “carefully evaluated over the long-term” first.
The health situation is different for adults. They can use it with low to no risk, as long as it is legal where they live. In places cannabis remains illegal, it is recommended that those with ADHD find a different, legal treatment instead.
Medical marijuana is known to be a non-toxic, tolerable drug with few side effects. Due to the stigma and criminalization of the drug, it is unlikely to be properly explored for some time. Unfortunately, this will be much too late for those who may have benefited from the drug in their youth.
Using Cannabis for ADHD
Self-administering cannabis for ADHD is relatively easy. Tolerability for humans is high, and there are a number of ways it can be consumed. CBD oil has become common in the medical marijuana community and is easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Smoking marijuana is never recommended. It may be a quick way of getting the cannabinoids into the bloodstream, but it is dangerous over the long term. The risk of cancer, emphysema, and heart disease raises significantly with regular smoking. Vaporizing cannabis is much healthier than smoking. Eating cannabis is also basically risk free, but be sure to careful with the doses.
If you are considering using cannabis for your ADHD, please do so only in consultation with your doctor. It is a drug and should be taken seriously. How it interacts with other medications is not yet understood and, in order to develop a proper treatment plan, a doctor needs to know exactly what you are taking.