Like most matters pertaining to the neurological disorder that is ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, this topic is tricky and multifaceted. It might surprise you to know that this disorder, affecting roughly five percent of the global adult population, includes seven subgroups, and the symptoms differ for each affected individual.
There are two main forms of the disorder, each of which is clustered around a different subset of symptoms. The first is ADD, or simply, Attention-Deficit Disorder. Lacking most of the hyperactivity associated with ADHD, ADD is typified by lack of ability to focus, poor working memory, distractibility, and a tendency to daydream. The main symptoms of ADHD, on the other hand, include fidgeting, impulsivity, risky behavior, excessive talking, and interrupting others, among others. It is not uncommon, however, for an individual to exhibit symptoms of both ADD and ADHD.
Common treatments for ADHD/ADD include Vyvanse, Ritalin, Adderall, and many others. Modern treatments include both stimulant and non-stimulant medications. However, I am not here to either condemn nor promote the use of these medications, as it is a very personal choice and one that should be solely between an individual and their doctor.
No, I am here to talk about another possible treatment, one that unfortunately has not yet had sufficient funding to be thoroughly researched: cannabis.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Such a thing seems counterintuitive, right? Even people not affected by ADHD problems will often have trouble following the flow of a conversation or the plot of a movie while stoned.
And yet, there are others who claim that the plant has served as their creative muse with storylines, guitar riffs, and poetry occurring to them in a flash. Counted among these inspired musicians are the jazz legend Louis Armstrong, rapper Wiz Khalifa (who’d have guessed?), and the late great Jerry Garcia.
And music isn’t the only art that has been touched by the ganja. Best-selling horror author Stephen King and astrophysicist and writer Carl Sagan have also used cannabis in the course of their work. So, in some way, cannabis must also provide the ability to hyperfocus. As a writer and sufferer of ADHD, I can attest that just the right amount of the herb can bring about a torrent of ideas for settings, character backstories, and dialogue. The problem is simply opening up my laptop and getting started!
But so far I have only provided you with anecdotes. How about some studies?
We’ll start with a 2014 study published in Substance Use and Abuse, a peer-reviewed medical journal, which sampled 2811 cannabis users affected by ADHD. When subjects were asked about the presence of their symptoms upon taking a break from the reefer, more users met the criteria for the hyperactive form of ADHD than for the inattentive type. Of these, the symptoms of fidgeting, restlessness, and racing thoughts actually worsened, providing evidence that cannabis works as a calming agent, easing the symptoms of the hyperactive forms of the disorder. For non-daily users, improvement of symptoms did not differ by subtype.
A much smaller study, a randomized control trial administered by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2017, studied thirty patients with ADHD. Fifteen were given a mouth spray called Sativex which contains a cannabinoid, and the remaining fifteen were given a placebo. Over the course of eleven months, cognitive performance and activity levels were tested using the QbTest, a computerized diagnostic tool assessing hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Although the experiment found no significant difference in the cognitive abilities between the control group and the experimental group, the results indicated a significant improvement in impulsivity, hyperactivity, and even inhibition in those that had taken Sativex. The placebo group showed no such improvement. In conclusion, the results of the study seemed to indicate that adults with ADHD may represent a subgroup of adults who experience a reduction of symptoms with little cognitive impairment following use of the cannabinoid.
Another small study, this one involving CBD, the non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis, was done at the Nova-Institute in Germany in 2015. Like the NCBI study, this one also involved thirty participants. All were sufferers of ADHD and had discontinued traditional medication due to side effects or ineffectiveness. Of the thirty, all had experienced an improvement in sleep and concentration, as well as a decrease in hyperactivity and fidgeting after having ingested CBD oil. So if you are not looking for the psychoactive high that comes with THC, CBD oil is a possible option for you.
You might be wondering exactly how this works. For this, we look at the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the central nervous system in mammals, and are involved in the regulation of multiple processes, including appetite, pain, mood, and memory, among others. This system plays a regulatory role, meaning it aids in maintaining homeostasis, or equilibrium in physiological processes. It is believed that an imbalance of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, among others, is the root cause of ADHD. Therefore, if the endocannabinoid receptors are sufficiently stimulated by the use of cannabinoids, the plant or its extracts might work by “balancing out” these chemicals, thereby relieving the symptoms of ADHD.
None of this is to say that a joint a day keeps the ADD away. As previously stated, there are multiple types of the disorder and symptoms present differently in each individual. Finding the right strain for your symptoms and then zeroing in on just the right dosage will take some time. I, for one, am still on that journey, but knowing how difficult ADHD can be to live with, I think it’s a worthwhile search.
We are watching history take place as cannabis prohibition comes to an achingly slow end. As the old laws go up in smoke, researchers will be given more liberty to further study the medicinal uses of the plant. Time will tell what treatments await discovery in this beautiful little herb we all know and love, but for now we wait–something we ADDers know all too well can be torturous!