Medical marijuana and ADHD
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ADHD is a behavioural condition that affects over 1 in 10 children in the US and many more around the world. It is a complex condition characterized by hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, and other behavioural and attention issues.
ADHD is traditionally treated with stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, which are successful in about 80% of cases but cause a lot of side effects. However, new anecdotal evidence shows ADHD patients are turning to cannabis for relief from their symptoms. Could cannabis be a new alternative cure for ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a common disorder that usually begins affecting children before they reach the age of 12 and can last into adulthood in about 30-50% of cases.
ADHD is traditionally thought of as a behavioural disorder. Children with ADHD are typically thought to be hyperactive and impulsive, acting in a way that’s difficult to control or manage for parents, teachers, and even peers.
And while some patients with ADHD certainly do exhibit this kind of behaviour, it’s important to realize that that is not the only way the disorder can manifest itself.
In fact, some patients may not portray such dramatic symptoms as hyperactivity or impulsive behaviours. Instead, they may struggle more with organizational skills like:
- Getting organized and starting a task. This can involve tasks like organizing a backpack, desk, filing system, or room.
- Managing time or priorities. Many patients with ADHD will find it hard to tackle multiple tasks at once and prioritizing one over the other
- Staying tuned into something and then being able to shift attention when necessary. Many patients with ADHD may have trouble keeping up the effort to finish a task, much like they struggle to get started in the first place
- Regulating alertness. Patients with ADHD may have problems falling asleep and may find they stay up late because they need to be exhausted in order to fall asleep.
- Regulating emotions. Some patients may find they get frustrated by small details that usually wouldn’t cause anybody any grief. Some patients may find they over analyse or overthink certain behaviours or scenarios.
- Memory and the ability to keep something in mind while working on something else. Most patients with ADHD have problems with short-term memory like recalling something that happened to them recently, while having no problems recalling the finest detail from 10 years ago.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ADHD?
Most people with ADHD will report having problems with getting distracted. While we all notice things happening around us as well as the thoughts running through our heads, we’re generally able to push this aside when it comes time to focus on something. People with ADHD find this particularly difficult.
Surprisingly, many ADHD patients have certain activities that they have no problems paying attention or staying focused. This can be any number of activities, including sports, arts, crafts, video games, and more. Patients with ADHD will often attest that they have no problem focusing on specific tasks that they’re interested in.
Now, this isn’t unique to ADHD; most people will agree that it is easier to focus on a task or activity that one is interested in. However, people without ADHD will be able to force themselves to focus on a task, even if it seems boring, if they know it is important. People with ADHD, however, find it really hard to control themselves to this point where they can focus on a task that they have no interest in.
It is important to realize that all the characteristics of ADHD are problems that most people will deal with at some point, However, patients with ADHD will have a lot more problem with them than someone who doesn’t have the disorder.
WHAT CAUSES ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown. However, genetics seem to be one of the biggest players in the development of ADHD. In fact, roughly 25% of patients with ADHD have a parent with the disorder.
What causes the attention and behavioural difficulties that characterize ADHD is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The brain produces up to 50 different chemicals which it uses to carry messages via neurotransmitters around the brain and the body. In people with ADHD, the brain is believed to have difficulties releasing these chemicals and restoring the balance in the brain, ultimately resulting in the symptoms listed above
HOW IS ADHD TREATED?
ADHD is typically treated with a combination of behavioural therapies and medications. The medications used in the treatment of ADHD typically include stimulants like methylphenidate. Other non-stimulants like atomoxetine, bupropion, guanfacine, and clonidine may also be used.
Regular treatment with medications produces is effective in roughly 80% of cases. The rate of effectiveness varies from one patient to another, and all medications used to treat ADHD produce side effects. These include:
- Nervousness and agitation.
- Stomach pain.
- Appetite and weight loss.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dizziness and headaches.
- Vision problems.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Sweating and skin rash.
- Numbness, tingling, or cold sensations in the hands and feet.
CANNABIS AND ADHD
Cannabis has received a lot of medical attention lately, and it seems that not a day goes by without a new study promising that marijuana can offer some kind of relief for a variety of conditions.
Recently, cannabis has received a lot of attention for the way it affects neural activity in the brain. In fact, cannabis’ ability to slow down the firing of neurons in the brain is one of the reasons it is believed to be effective in treating epilepsy, Tourette's, and other related conditions.
Moreover, many medical marijuana patients swear by the drug’s ability to help keep them focused (which is hard to believe if you’re familiar with the popular depiction of a stoner).
According to David Bearman MD, a physician and medical marijuana expert, cannabis may help treat ADHD by increasing dopamine levels in the brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in cognitive processes like managing memory, attention, and more. Patients with ADHD are known to have lower levels of dopamine in the brain and, according to Dr bearman, marijuana can help restore the balance of this chemical.
Unfortunately there has been very little clinical research into cannabis and how it may affect patients suffering from ADHD. However, it is interesting to note that many ADHD patients turn to cannabis for relief.
Substance abuse is common among ADHD patients,and one of the most popular drugs used by ADHD sufferers is cannabis. In fact, start Googling “ADHD and cannabis’ and you’ll find countless anecdotal reports from patients claiming that the drug helps them stay focused and deal with hyperactivity.
For others, it also helps manage the side effects of their regular medication, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, or pain.
ADHD AND CANNABIS: MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED
Anecdotal reports obviously aren’t enough to come to concrete conclusions about cannabis and its role in treating ADHD. However, they do warrant further investigation into this topic. Hopefully, as clinical studies begin to focus on the connection between medical marijuana and conditions like ADHD, patients will soon be able to make more informed decisions about alternative treatment options to their traditional medicine.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. Cannabis.info is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.