Cannabis and Mental Health: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

[Canniseur: Cannabis has always offered me great focus. A little hit and I’m off handling the present moment with genuine enthusiasm. Some may need to hear official scientific results, but cannabis has become an important option for many seeking treatment. That said, we really need more research on THC/CBD/ADHD.]

To avoid the side-effects from traditional medications, some ADHD patients are using cannabis.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that can considerably impact one’s daily life. The disorder has the ability to affect attention spans and behavior, as well as trigger bouts of hyperactivity. As such, patients tend to struggle with school, work, relationships, and common tasks and interactions. 

Several causes of ADHD have been identified. They include genetics, developmental issues in the central nervous system, and a person’s environment. Additionally, families with ADHD or other mental health concerns may be at higher risk, as are those exposed to toxins as children. Issues during pregnancy, like premature births or drinking while pregnant, can play a factor as well. 

Coexisting conditions tend to occur alongside ADHD. Accompanying disorders may affect a person’s anxiety, mood or psyche, with learning disabilities also common. 

ADHD contains three subtypes of the disorder, including attention deficit disorder (ADD). Other subtypes include Combined, which affects hyperactivity and inattentiveness, and Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, which states what is affected in its name.

According to 2016 Center for Disease Control data, 9.4% of American children between the ages of two and 17 were diagnosed with ADHD. Of the 6.1 million diagnosed, 3.3 million children were diagnosed between the ages of 12 and 17. 

The disorder is known to affect the sexes differently. Girls with ADHD tend to outperform boys with ADHD in school. Meanwhile, boys tend to suffer in school and act out more. Boys with the condition likely stand out more due to their frequency as well, with triple the amount of diagnoses. 

In both genders, symptoms include being withdrawn, frequent talking, disorganization, and difficulty completing tasks. That said, with symptoms mirroring a person’s everyday struggles, making it difficult for a person to know what they’re dealing with. Experts suggest consulting a physician if you feel that you or your child’s day is disrupted daily. If the occurrence is not a daily burden, it is not likely ADHD.  

Though more frequent in children, ADHD affects 4.4% of adults as well. This percentage may be inaccurate, according to some expert positing. They believe scores of undiagnosed adults may drive the figure higher, though unclear of the number. While possible, the Mayo Clinic points out that adult ADHD diagnoses are difficult. In addition to the previous examples, ADHD also shares similar symptoms with other anxiety or mood disorders, further clouding a diagnosis. 

Like other disorders and mental conditions, some don’t see their ADHD as entirely negative. “ADHD is an absolute blessing and blatant curse depending on the day,” explains Melissa Gumely, an early-30s clothing designer and creative. She offered up examples. “There are days I’m a multitasking, hyper-focused ninja working on and completing task after task. Others, I can’t get out of my head or my bed.”

Officially diagnosed at 17, Gumley recalls her hyperactivity as a problem for teachers as early as age seven. By her senior year in high school, she reported taking AP classes with an inability to focus on a single one. 

“I would finish assignments within 10 minutes and then get sent to go ‘walk it off,’” she said. She switched to a vocational program mid-year, which she said helped. 

She continues to struggle with ADHD today. Her symptoms include feeling overwhelmed and overloaded. “It’s constantly fighting with your executive function because some days your brain and body are working against each other.” She continued, “It’s exhaustion but permanent insomnia.”

Treatment for ADHD

In most cases, adults and children are treated using some combination of medication, psychological therapy and treatment for any coexisting conditions. However, some patients experience less than ideal outcomes with traditional methods. Some of the reported adverse effects include difficulty sleeping, higher blood pressure, head and stomach pain, as well as weight loss. 

As such, cannabis has become an option for many seeking treatment. 

Sarah ElSayed is a public relations executive who was diagnosed with ADD nearly 12 years ago. She explained how cannabis has been part of what she believes is her ideal treatment. “I do believe that cannabis, in addition to probiotics and a reduced sugar diet, helps me maintain my focus without the help of stimulants.”

Medical professionals who spoke to High Times for this article agreed that ADHD treatments are not one-size-fits-all. Brooke Alpert is a licensed cannabis practitioner and founder of Daily Habit. Alpert touched on the correlation between CBD and ADHD. “The studies that focus on ADHD and CBD have shown some conflicting evidence.” 

She added, “I think more research needs to look at what relief people are finding with cannabis so we can have a better picture of how to further recommend CBD and cannabis for those with ADHD.”

Alisa Martin is a writer and researcher for and holds a B.S. in medical technology. Martin pointed towards a study that found 25% of patients surveyed manage their ADHD with cannabis. The researcher went on to agree that additional studies are required. “More investigation is needed from the medical community, as well as an increased public openness and understanding regarding the benefits,” said Martin. 

The current lack of evidence and the federal legal status in the U.S. leaves medical professionals uncomfortable to prescribe cannabis. As such, patients often self-medicate.

Those who self medicate have some lab findings to confirm their faith in cannabis treatments. They include a 2017 small clinical study that found that a 1:1 CBD/THC medicine reduced ADHD symptoms. Matt Scillitani, a Demographic Researcher for Remedy Review, also cited the study. Scillitani also pointed out that the research did not meet a statistically significant threshold. 

He echoed a similar sentiment about the need for more studies. He also touched on shortcomings in the currently available date. “Additionally, of the few clinical studies that do evaluate cannabinoids and ADHD, most assess the effects of THC or THC/CBD adjunctively.” Scillitani also pointed out that studies typically use only adults and small sample sizes.

Despite the uncertainty in the eyes of science, many are convinced cannabis is their ideal treatment. For the designer Gumley, she claims that cannabis provides everything medications like Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin claimed but never did. “It helps bring calm to an otherwise constant anxiety-ridden body,” she explained, highlighting mental and physical relief. 

She added, “Cannabis has changed my life exponentially for the better.”

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