ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is one of the most common developmental disorders in the United States. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11% of American children have been diagnosed with ADHD today.
This is a difficult disorder to treat as the array of symptoms which it causes is vast and highly individualized. Every patient is different and treatments don’t work to the same degree for everyone. The fact that 60% of patients are children makes treatment even more difficult. Parents are rightly nervous of pharmaceuticals and the long term side effects they might have.
As a result, many parents have sought out an alternative treatment. They hope that this will be both effective and safe for their children. Treating ADHD in children with cannabis may seem irresponsible. However, there is a reason why so many claim that this treatment is the answer to their problems.
In the past this condition was largely misunderstood, under-diagnosed and ineffectually treated. Thankfully, advances in our scientific understanding of it have changed this in more recent years. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th edition (or DSM-5) has played a major role in this.
DSM-5 is a diagnostic tool developed by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013. It is used by medical professionals as a guide when diagnosing mental health and neurological conditions in both children and adults. It has played a role in the improvements of ADHD treatment over the years.
The symptoms of ADHD under the DSM-5 are as follows:
Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness
DSM-5 sets out the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. This manual sets out that several of the inattentive and hyperactive symptoms of the condition must be present for a number of years before the patient reaches the age of 12. It helps physicians to understand whether or not a patient qualifies for diagnosis. It also helps to assess how severe the condition may be in any individual.
Current Treatments for ADHD
The current treatments for ADHD comprise of two types of medications; stimulants and non-stimulants. Both of these medications can be effective in addressing many of the symptoms of ADHD. Unfortunately, they do come with drawbacks which can be potentially dangerous.
Stimulant medications can cause some very harmful side effects such as:
Non-stimulant medications, on the other hand, are usually prescribed when a patient isn’t responding well to stimulants or has a heart condition, bipolar disorder, or another medical issue which makes them too risky. Non-stimulants can lead to:
It is understandable that parents are wary of the harmful side effects which can be caused by these medications. That is why so many have turned to medical cannabis as an ADHD medication instead.
Medical cannabis, otherwise known as medical marijuana, has become a hot topic of conversation in the United States today. This comes as the number of states who have taken the step of legalizing the drug continues to grow. However, many people still have reservations when it comes to the use of the plant for medical purposes.
Throughout the twentieth century, cannabis went from being a popular recreational drug to a social pariah in less than one hundred years. This was thanks to a concerted effort by international governments. Although recreational use continued, it was driven underground. As a result, smoking marijuana became highly stigmatized as well as illegal.
Most people are concerned that cannabis ADHD treatment will lead to addiction and substance abuse. This is because of the strong association between cannabis and psychoactive effects. However, they need not worry. New strains of the plant have been developed in recent years.
Some of these strains contain very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the chemical which causes the euphoric effects. These strains are ideally suited to treatment for ADHD patients. Parents can rest assured that their child will experience all of the health benefits without the psychoactive effects.
The Science Behind Cannabis ADHD Treatment
The exact causes of ADHD are still largely unknown. Researchers believe that genetics play a role in the condition, as do environmental factors. However they have identified low dopamine levels as a feature in ADHD.
Dopamine is a chemical which is produced and released in the brain. It facilitates the processing of other important brain chemicals, such as serotonin and adrenaline. Without optimal dopamine levels, many aspects of brain health are thrown off balance. This can lead to the behavioural problems seen in ADHD patients.
The chemicals which are found in cannabis have been found to indirectly increase dopamine levels. These chemicals, known as cannabinoids, actually inhibit the things which inhibit dopamine release. The overall effect is an increase in dopamine levels.
Cannabinoids play an even larger role in the human body. They support the endocannabinoid system. This is a complex network of receptors which are found primarily in the nervous system. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for a wide range of bodily functions.
These range from appetite and pain modulation to memory and mood stabilization. This is relevant to ADHD patients because by using cannabis, they can give their endocannabinoid system a boost. This, in turn, will help to restore balance to their moods.
Countless scientific studies have investigated the effects of cannabinoid medications on the brain. More specifically, many have examined the impact that cannabis ADHD medications can have on the condition. Several studies have shown that there is a direct link between the endocannabinoid system and dopamine levels.
Since 2016, two significant studies have proven that Sativex improves cognitive function and social behavior in ADHD patients. Sativex is a cannabinoid medication which has a 1:1 CBD/thc ratio. Researchers found that improvements in sleep, concentration, memory and attention were all consistently improved. They also noted a marked reduction in impulsivity and hyperactivity.
The patients who took part in these studies were selected because they had not responded well to conventional ADHD treatment. This means that there is real potential in cannabinoid medications to fill a gap in the current pharmaceutical options.
Considering all of the evidence that suggests that cannabis ADHD treatment could be safe and effective, it’s no wonder that so many patients are jumping on the bandwagon. However, there is still much that scientists don’t know about cannabis and its use for ADHD.
For example, the differences in long term side effects of different strains of cannabis aren’t well understood. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some strains are more suited to ADHD than others. But, researchers need to gather evidence of these claims to better inform patient choices.
It is also not quite clear what the effect of cannabis is on anxiety. While many studies suggests that cannabis reduces anxiety significantly, others suggest the opposite. Anxiety can be a very common symptom of ADHD, so it is important that researchers investigate this further.
Finally, scientists aren’t sure of the ways that cannabis interacts with other medications. This can be very problematic for patients who are taking medication for other existing conditions. Because of this, patients should make sure to discuss the possibility of using cannabis with their doctors before trying it for themselves.