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Marijuana's Role in Managing ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is one of the most well-known kinds of neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD is characterized by the inability to maintain attention on an activity or object for an extended amount of time, as well as increased level of physical and mental activity. There are three subtypes of ADHD, depending on what part of the disorder is most dominant:

  • Predominantly Inattentive - The patient has difficulty focusing on an activity
  • Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive - The patient tends to feel restless and hyperactive
  • Combination - The patient displays both inability to pay attention and hyperactive tendencies

While ADHD is used to refer to any of these three versions of the disorder, some people still refer to the first version as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder – the original name for ADHD) to signify inattentiveness not accompanied by hyperactivity. People in the medical field always refer to the disorder as ADHD, regardless of which symptoms are present.

ADHD happens to be one of the most common mental conditions, affecting about 11% of children ranging from 4-17 years old, although it can persist well into adulthood. Treatment often involves getting the patient to take medications such as methylphenidate, guanfacine, and lisdexamfetamine on a regular basis, but there could be risky side effects and the long-term costs of medication can be too expensive.

Marijuana, Cannabinoids, and the Endocannabinoid System

Many ADHD patients looking for an alternative to conventional medication have turned to medical marijuana for a solution. A controversial drug, marijuana comes from the buds and leaves of the marijuana plant. Patients can consume marijuana by burning parts of the plant and inhaling the smoke, by inhaling the vapors of diffused marijuana oil, mixing marijuana oil with creams and applying it on the skin, or even incorporating it in food recipes to create cannabis edibles.

Marijuana contains a wide variety of chemical compounds that are exclusively found in the plant. These compounds are known as cannabinoids and they are the main cause of the different effects experienced by an ADHD patient when they consume marijuana. While there are many kinds of cannabinoids, 2 of them stand out in particular: THC and CBD.

THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the most well-known type of cannabinoid. This chemical compound has been linked to the "buzz" or psychoactive effects that marijuana consumers experience after ingesting marijuana. Scientific research has also revealed that THC has other effects that patients with ADHD can greatly benefit from. On the other hand, CBD or cannabidiol is considered the exact opposite of THC, countering the psychoactive effects of the former while also providing several benefits to patients when marijuana is consumed.

Cannabinoids affect the body because they are similar to endocannabinoids — chemical compounds that activate receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). These receptors can trigger different kinds of physiological and mental reactions such as increased activity or vigor, calming effects, higher or lower blood pressure, and even functions such as metabolism and ability to focus. There are 2 types of receptors: CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, which can be found in different body tissues.

Finding the proper balance of THC and CBD in relation to the nature of the patient's ADHD is essential in ensuring the best possible results. Different strains of marijuana have different levels of THC and CBD, which means 2 patients with different subtypes of ADHD may not get the same amount of benefit even if they pick the same strain and dosage of marijuana to consume.

How Marijuana Affects ADHD

Because the cannabinoids found in marijuana affect the ECS, they can have various effects on the severity of the different signs and symptoms associated with ADHD.

Inability to focus can be a major problem for patients suffering from ADHD as this symptom can have a negative effect in acquiring new knowledge or accomplishing certain tasks. According to a scientific study that involved testing 30 adult ADHD patients, those who were given doses of marijuana showed a trend towards improvement for inattention compared to those who were only given a placebo. While there is still plenty of research to be done regarding marijuana's effect on inattention, this study is a good indication that marijuana's effect on the ECS may hold the key to helping ADHD patients stay more focused.

Impulsiveness is also a big component of ADHD, as it can cause ADHD patients to frequently switch their attention from one thing to another. In a 2009 study using lab mice, researchers have linked the CB1 receptors to the tendency of the mice to prefer novelty over behavioral stimulus and vice versa. This could suggest that consuming marijuana can also help ADHD patients develop more behavioral patterns, making them more likely to "stay on track" when learning new information or performing a task.

Tests on humans also support the theory that marijuana can help reduce the impulsive tendencies of people with ADHD. In 2014 a US survey revealed that those who self-medicate with regular doses of marijuana claim to have a positive effect in managing their hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. For non-regular marijuana users, the effects of consuming the substance didn't lean towards any particular symptom of ADHD.

Closely related to the impulsiveness of ADHD patients is hyperactivity. Common symptoms of hyperactivity include constantly shifting positions, making drumming gestures, restless legs, waving the arms, or fidgeting with small items. Consuming marijuana seems to have a significant impact in reducing the symptoms of hyperactivity. This is seen in a 2008 experiment where a person suffering from ADHD displayed an improvement not just in controlling hyperactivity but even impulsiveness and overall demeanor.

Some cases of ADHD can also be linked to social withdrawal. The patient may feel bored with the concept of interacting with other people or even feel exhausted or irritated when put in social situations. In 2012, researchers found out that the CBD from marijuana not only helps normalize social behaviors but also improve it. According to the researchers, further study on the nature of CBD can lead to a better understanding of how CBD can be applied to help suppress more serious social problems such as psychotic behavior.

Research And Studies Show That Cannabis May Be Able To Help With ADHD.

An Alternative to the Use of Illegal Substances

There are instances where ADHD patients may turn to illegal substances such as cocaine to deal with their disorder, which can cause serious legal and health consequences if left unchecked. Fortunately, more progressive changes to marijuana regulation have given ADHD patients the opportunity to switch to marijuana. A research in 2006 showed that marijuana is effective at helping ADHD patients break their dependence on cocaine, and also increased treatment retention rates among the subjects.

One of the most interesting discoveries about marijuana is that it’s easy to get out of the system. A study in 2012 shows that light users who abstain from marijuana consumption for as little as 24-48 hours show negligible signs of marijuana in their body. This also means that users are less likely to keep increasing dosage in order to get their desired results, as they only need to abstain for a short time to revert their body’s tolerance of the substance.

Many people are still cautious about the concept of switching from one controversial drug to another, but switching to marijuana seems to be a good move most of the time. Compared to other popular recreational substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, marijuana is substantially safer and less addictive.

There have been many instances of ADHD patients suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms after stopping the consumption of different medications, both conventional and illegal ones. Fortunately, marijuana can be considered a much safer alternative. Only a very small portion of marijuana users experience severe withdrawal symptoms after abstaining from the substance, even after months or years of regular consumption.

Marijuana and Other Problems Associated with ADHD

Having ADHD can also lead to other health-related problems, but some of these issues can be improved by consuming marijuana. For example, hyperactivity in adult ADHD patients can lead to stress, which can then lead to other serious health problems. Many people already consume marijuana for its calming effects, especially weed strains that have a high CBD content.

Another common problem often associated with ADHD is social anxiety. It's common for ADHD patients to feel worried about many things, which can be exacerbated if they are placed in a social setting where the presence of others can cause unnecessary mental pressure. There are certain marijuana strains that are recommended for people suffering from social anxiety, but it's important for ADHD patients to be aware of the THC content in each strain, as too much of it can aggravate their hyperactivity.

Fatigue among ADHD patients, especially among older people, can have a drastic effect on their daily lifestyle. With hyperactivity keeping ADHD patients from getting proper sleep, daily tasks become more difficult, the immune system weakens, and even the amount of social interaction can be heavily affected. Marijuana strains with high CBD can help people sleep better. Patients can also choose to start the day with a dosage of more energizing marijuana strains.

Unwind After Those Long, Rough Days: This Is RELAX.

Marijuana Strains for ADHD

While there are dozens of weed strains available today, some of them tend to work better for ADHD patients compared to others. Here are a few examples of marijuana strains that are believed to be good for dealing with the symptoms of ADHD.

Northern Lights - This particular strain of marijuana comes from the Pacific North West. While this strain is well-known for its calming and sleep-inducing effects, it does not leave users with a heavy feeling when they wake up. Northern Lights is also commonly used to help manage loss of appetite, chronic pain, and depression.

Sour Diesel - Sour Diesel is excellent for getting rid of irritability and helping an ADHD patient maintain their focus. Sour Diesel is best taken by patients who have a long day ahead of them where both focus and energy are important.

Tahoe OG Kush - Patients who decide to switch out conventional medication may suffer from extreme appetite loss and hyperactivity. Tahoe OG Kush is a hybrid of sativa and indica, combining the energizing effect of the former with the calming effect of the latter. ADHD patients suffering from extreme hyperactivity can benefit from the strain’s extra-strong calming effect, but caution must be taken as strong doses of this variant could lead to too much sleepiness.

Master Kush - Another hybrid strain for ADHD patients, Master Kush is a bit less potent than Tahoe OG Kush. This strain is often used for recreational purposes and it is said to help increase its user's creativity. This ability to be more creative can be beneficial for ADHD users who turn to creative activities, as it also improves a person’s ability to focus on a single task. This strain of cannabis also works as a sleep enhancer if taken a few hours before going to bed.

While marijuana has already seen a lot of use in the medical field, there are still a lot of things that researchers can learn about it. Combined with increasingly progressive laws regarding the regulation of the substance, it may only be a matter of time before the general public considers marijuana as a more viable option compared to conventional but risky medicines used to treat today's ADHD patients.