Medical Cannabis for ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental mental disorder. There is some confusion surrounding this disorder with attention deficit disorder, or ADD. They are in fact the same thing, but ADD is a more outdated way of saying ADHD. It has a variety of symptoms with the most notable being, trouble paying attention, excessive activity, and difficulty controlling behavior. The symptoms of ADHD typically appear before a child is 12 years old, and are characterized by lasting longer than 6 months and must be present in two or more different settings. Kids with ADHD can have problems paying attention and poor school performance, but they will often have decent attention spans for things they find interesting.

ADHD is the most commonly studied and diagnosed mental disorder in children in the world. Despite this, the cause of the disorder is unknown in the majority of cases. Diagnosing ADHD can be a challenge, when using the DSM-IV criteria, approximately 5% of children globally are affected. However, when using the ICD-10 criteria only roughly 1% of children are affected globally. Approximately one in ten children in America will be diagnosed with ADHD. Roughly 30% of people diagnosed as children continue to have symptoms into adulthood. Typical treatments include prescribing psychostimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta. These types of medications are stimulants and are molecularly similar to methamphetamine and cocaine.
So how does medical cannabis fit into all of this? One doesn’t often think of marijuana to be the pinnacle of cognitive performance drugs. However, with much anecdotal evidence supporting the fact that it can help promote focus, some people began to look into the effects the substance could have on ADHD. As a depressant, cannabis has been shown to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity; two commonly associated symptoms of ADHD.

A study published in 2015 researched the effects that cannabis had on 30 ADHD patients who were not positively responding to Adderall or Ritalin. The study included 28 male patients and 2 female, with all of them between the ages of 21-51. The study showed that after treatment, the majority of subjects experienced “improved concentration and sleep, and reduced impulsivity”. All patients used some form of cannabis flower, and eight of the patients used dronabinol, a synthesized THC pill commonly used to treat nausea. Despite the fact that the study was relatively small, researchers who took part in it concluded that cannabis was “an effective and well-tolerated” treatment option.

One of the main physiological characteristics of ADHD is that the brain typically has a shortage of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects processes such as memory and attention. ADHD treatment medications such as Adderall typically stimulate dopamine production. However, these medications come with a myriad of unwanted side effects. Dr. David Bearmen, a notable medical cannabis researcher believes that the cannabinoid system and ADHD could potentially go hand in hand. “Cannabis appears to treat ADD and ADHD by increasing the availability of dopamine,” Dr. Bearman wrote.

When you ingest cannabis, cannabinoids indirectly increase dopamine in the brain by blocking another neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA typically reduces the amount of dopamine released by the brain. But, when GABA is blocked by cannabinoids, the essential result is that more dopamine is released.

Overall cannabis has the potential to be an effective treatment for ADHD. Tedious and dull tasks become more interesting, and overall mood swings tend to be more level. However, more research needs to be done on the subject before any staunch conclusions can be made.


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