Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, is a mental health disorder characterised by high energy levels and impulsive behaviours. Those with ADHD also have with trouble attending to a single task or sitting still. Traditional treatment for this illness consists of behavioural therapy, such as talk therapy. Another common traditional practice involves taking prescribed stimulant medication, such as ritalin. It may seem counterintuitive that ADHD patients, with high energy levels, are to take stimulating drugs. Supposedly speeding their brains up even further. ADHD is characterised by lower dopamine levels than usual necessary to concentrate on singular tasks. In children under six years old, behavioural therapy is most common as medication may be harmful to a maturing brain. As for adults, fast acting medication is more popular and effective to rapidly minimise the effects of this condition.
Cannabis can assist patients when traditional treatment is ineffective
Between 70-80% of children with ADHD have fewer ADHD symptoms when taking these fast-acting stimulant medications. Traditional treatment is still ineffective for 20-30%. Research on the consequences and effectiveness of using marijuana to treat children, teens, and younger adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder continues to evolve. So we can now help benefit ADHD patients where traditional stimulants fail to treat the condition.
Traditional treatments can have side effects for some people; thus, cannabis may be more effective for them. Most of the commonly prescribed ADHD medicines at the moment consist of stimulants, (similar to cocaine). There are a myriad of possible negative effects on the brain that cannabis doesn’t. One simple example of this is the addiction levels. It is a known fact that ADHD stimulants including dexamphetamine and Ritalin are more addictive than marijuana. They also have more intense effects on the reward pathways of the brain. Despite this, there are arguments flagging marijuana as a ‘gateway’ drug leading to increased heavier drugs usage.
The following graph provides a comparison of the major potential side effects of medicinal cannabis as opposed to the most commonly prescribed Ritalin:
|Effects of Stimulant Medication:||Effects of Medicinal Marijuana:|
|Decreased appetite||Increased appetite|
|Sleeping problems||Assists sleep|
As we can see, the contrasting side effects between the two drugs is quite large. This makes it easy to understand why different people may rather the low dose THC cannabis. We can also conclude that stimulants cause sleeping problems and eating problems, whereas THC mitigates these issues. ADHD patients could use stimulants to combat ADHD and then use THC to combat the adverse effects of the stimulants.
Science backing cannabis and ADHD
THC, one of two major chemical compounds in cannabis (alongside CBD), acts slightly differently on the brain of ADHD. That is, according to medical professionals. Supposedly, people with the disorder have something known as an endocannabinoid deficiency causing restlessness, impulsivity and inattention. THC works by stimulating the endocannabinoid system, which ultimately slows down neurotransmission. Thereby this allows the brain to focus and concentrate on fewer impulses. Rather than impulses caused by ADHD being overwhelming. In MRI or pet scans, the back part of the brain, the cerebellum, lights up with cannabis. This is akin to adderall, another ADHD medication. This suggests that cannabis can assist patients to sit still, addressing the hyperactive part of ADHD. Therefore coinciding with helping the attention deficit component.
People with ADHD react differently
Those with ADHD are more susceptible to recreational use and addiction. More specifically, Cannabis use Disorder (CUD) is a problematic pattern of marijuana usage. Cannabis is not proven to be physically addictive but can be overused. Additionally, those with CUD take marijuana in larger amounts for longer periods than intended. They also allow their usage to take over their day-to-day life, failing to meet obligations like work and family routines. Compared to the general population, ADHD individuals are at an increased risk of CUD. People with ADHD in their youth are reported to be three times more likely to use cannabis in later life. They are also 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with CUD. The backing behind this is supported by a possible alteration in the reward pathways of those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Lower dopamine levels in the brain lead to high dopamine stimulating activities, like smoking cannabis, being more intensely craved.
What did we find?
There’s still very little literature and further research needed on cannabis for ADHD treatment before it’s determine whether it’s effective. For the meantime, doctors are prescribing medicinal marijuana to ADHD patients on the basis of whether traditional medication is working. Furthermore, this is only when the associated benefits outweigh the side effects, long term and short.