Cannabis is known for its typical effect: users become relaxed and in a state of calmness. This could actually be ideal for people with ADHD and ADD. They often suffer from rapid thoughts and a lack of concentration. It is sometimes difficult for them to pay attention to mundane, but necessary, daily tasks as well.
Cannabis has been proven to help with various medical conditions. This is largely due to certain constituents of the plant that react to specific receptors in the human body. These receptors make up the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This internal system may well play an underlying role in ADHD and ADD, although more extensive and detailed research is needed for concrete conclusions.
Good cognitive function and performance are related to several factors. For example, they would possibly depend on correct functioning of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. They may also require adequate levels of the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG. When this system becomes unregulated, the symptoms of ADHD and ADD may appear.
What Is ADHD & ADD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a frequent condition among children. It is estimated that over 6 million children in the United States suffer from it. ADHD has several variations and can manifest itself differently in each individual. Typical characteristics include a lack of concentration, a wandering focus, and difficulty sustaining attention. In addition, people with ADHD may exhibit disruptive behavior. Adults can also be diagnosed with the disorder. In this case, it often goes undetected in childhood.
There is often confusion about the difference between ADHD and ADD. Previously, ADD was considered a different diagnosis than ADHD. It had similar characteristics to ADHD, but without the hyperactive element. After a reclassification, the former symptoms of ADD now fall under the heading of ADHD as well.
Types Of ADHD
There are three types of ADHD. They involve hyperactivity, a lack of attention, or both. The first type is attention deficit disorder. This involves a group of symptoms that would previously be diagnosed as ADD. This form of ADHD is characterized by attention deficit without signs of hyperactivity.
The inattentive aspect of ADHD can be very problematic for children and adults. For example, it can negatively affect their social and educational/professional lives. An inattentive person is often defined as someone who is easily distracted. He would also lose focus quickly and not be organized. In addition, it is difficult for the person to follow instructions. Therefore, sometimes such a person avoids tasks that require a lot of mental effort. Furthermore, the person does not always respond when addressed by someone.
The second form of ADHD is hyperactive/impulsive ADHD. This consists of symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. It does not, however, have the inattentive aspect characteristic of the first variant. This form of ADHD is accompanied by excessive talking and fidgeting and interrupting conversations. The person always seems to be busy and may find it difficult and unpleasant to take rest.
The third form is combined ADHD. This means that a person experiences a combination of symptoms. So: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Causes Of ADHD
We have now looked at some of the symptoms of this disorder, but what is the exact cause? At the moment, researchers are not quite sure about that. It is believed that there are multiple causes of ADHD, including a neurological one. Some studies suggest that reduced levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine could play a role.
Dopamine is responsible for passing signals between neurons. In doing so, it plays a role in movement, your memory, behavior and cognition, mood, learning, attention and reward systems.
Possibly another causal factor lies in genes and a structural difference within brain regions. For example, reduced gray matter volume is associated with individuals diagnosed with ADHD.
Conventional ADHD Treatment
Further on, we describe what cannabis could do for someone diagnosed with ADHD. First, however, we look at the conventional treatments that are used. Often these consist of a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. The prescribed medications consist of stimulants or non-stimulants.
Stimulants are used to boost dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Here you can think of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. Examples include Ritalin and Adderall. Non-stimulant drugs include Strattera and antidepressants, such as nortriptyline.
In addition, people with ADHD are advised to make sure they get exercise, enough sleep and the right diet. This way, they can try to alleviate the symptoms. Some other things that can help are meditation, spending time in nature, mindfulness and yoga.
Cannabis As A Potential Treatment
Conventional treatments don’t strike a chord with everyone that suffers from ADHD. And even when they do work, some seek alternatives, sometimes because of unwanted side effects. For some individuals, self-medication with cannabis may be enlightening. Anecdotal evidence suggests that its use may help reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is also said to boost focus and reduce restlessness.
However, cannabis as a potential treatment for ADHD is not only supported by anecdotal evidence. Several studies and numerous doctors also suggest that constituents from cannabis can alleviate the symptoms of ADHD.
For example, a 2017 paper published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology describes a randomized, placebo-controlled experimental study in detail. In this study, 30 adults with ADHD were administered cannabinoid medication. According to the authors, the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis come about through the enhancement of dopaminergic neurotransmission. This same mechanism is seen with conventional medication.
The participants were divided into two groups. One received an active treatment; the other group received a placebo. The active group received doses of an oromucosal spray called Sativex. Each 100 microliters of the product contains 2.7mg of THC and 2.5mg of CBD. In this study, cannabinoid use was associated with significantly less hyperactivity and impulsivity. It was also associated with a steady improvement in attentiveness.
The results of this study support the anecdotal evidence on this topic. This shows that self-medication with cannabis may help alleviate some of the ADHD symptoms.
Possible Endocannabinoid Deficiency
The above research shows that active ingredients from cannabis plants may help alleviate symptoms of ADHD. However, it could be that cannabinoids play an even more fundamental role in this condition.
Dr. David Bearman of Santa Barbara, California, chooses to treat some of his ADHD patients with cannabis. He suspects that patients who lose their focus and attention quickly are suffering from what he calls a clinical endocannbinoid deficiency. This means that the body itself does not produce enough endocannabinoids.
Interestingly enough, the endocannabinoid anandamide reacts to the same receptors as the phytocannabinoid THC. What that means is that intake of THC could boost activation of this receptor. This is true even at lower levels of endogenous cannabinoids.
According to Dr. Bearman, administration of phytocannabinoids in people with endocannabinoid deficiency can slow down the release of neurotransmitters. This would allow the brain to concentrate better.
Potential Risks Of Self Medication With Cannabis
While cannabis may be a potential treatment for ADHD, its use should be considered on an individual basis. When you suffer from ADHD yo are more likely to suffer from substance abuse as well. Therefore, the use of cannabis increases the risk of addiction. It could also encourage the use of other substances. This is especially true for teenagers. They are very likely to become heavy cannabis users after experimenting with self-medication.
Heavy cannabis use during the teenage years can have serious, negative consequences. This is because until the age of about 25 the brain is still developing. Excessive cannabis use before that age, therefore, is associated with several negative effects. For example, it would lead to decreased performance during cognitive tasks and a thinner cortex. This is an area of the brain that regulates your memory and inhibitions.
According to some researchers, microdosing might be the best way to self-medicate. This is especially true for teenagers who want to experiment. A microdose is a tiny amount of cannabis. The dose is so small that the psychoactive effects are very subtle or not noticeable at all. These small doses can help users focus better. At the same time, the dose is so small that it does not negatively affect their productivity and functioning.
Be Strategic With Strains
Different cannabis strains can produce very different psychoactive and therapeutic effects. It’s good to be aware of these if you want to self-medicate with cannabis. Indica dominant strains are associated with relaxation and a physical stone. Sativa dominant plants, however, have a more cerebral, energetic and even motivating effect.
Different strains also contain varying amounts of cannabinoids. For example, plants with a high THC content produce much more of a psychoactive effect than cannabis with a high CBD content.
The strain that provides the most support for ADHD can vary from person to person. For example, Sativa dominant strains can help boost focus and attention. Indica dominant varieties can actually calm hyperactivity. One that we would recommend to start with is the Blue Dreams strain.
ADD | Frequently Asked Questions
Is it proven that cannabis is a good treatment for ADD?
Not conclusively, but the result to this date look good.
What is the difference between ADHD and ADD?
ADHD is a group that ADD belongs to.
What are the side effects of using cannabis for ADD?
The most important one is that it may lead to substance abuse of other substances when used excessively.
Is cannabis a good medicine for teenagers with ADD?
It can be, but only when microdosing.
What is better for ADD; indica or sativa?
That depends on your type of ADHD, sativa strains help boost focus and indica strains help you relax.