Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also known as ADD, or hyperkinetic disorder, is characterized by difficulty focusing on tasks and excessive activity. ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed developmental disorder in children and adolescents (affecting roughly 5-10 percent), and 2-5 percent of adults with some often experiencing anxiety. There is much controversy surrounding both the diagnosing and treating of ADHD, which is most often managed in Western nations through the use of both pharmaceutical stimulants and behavioral therapy. Those diagnosed with ADHD are often described into the subtypes; hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined.
We’ll be using the word “cannabis” to describe all varieties of the plant. Hemp, for example, is the low-THC variety of cannabis. Whereas marijuana is the inflated-THC variety. In much the same way granny smith and macintosh are varieties of apples, hemp and marijuana are varieties of cannabis with varying levels of different compounds and “flavors”, so to speak.
ADHD is known as a risk factor for addiction, which includes a problematic use of high-THC cannabis. (1) However, cannabis has been found to decrease the symptoms of the disorder, and, when correctly dosed and administered safely, dominant CBD strains show excellent results. Although most people tend to react to stimulants by becoming more energized, people with ADHD have the opposite reaction in that the stimulants actually calm them down. Many other drugs for ADHD type disorders work through making dopamine more accessible in the brain, which assists in adjusting focus and behavior. But, these medications come with very negative side effects, especially when given to children, and the long-range advantages of their use are in question. Based on the current available research, limited studies and anecdotal evidence suggests that a dopamine deficiency can be balanced through therapy with medicinal cannabinoids helping to alleviate anxiety and other symptoms. High-CBD cannabis may provide better concentration and focus without the psychoactive effects of elevated-THC varieties, although interestingly, there are some studies showing benefit from tetrahydrocannabinol for those with ADHD, even enhancing their driving performance. (2)
A major figure in cannabis research with over forty years experience working on substance abuse programs and who was a member of Ronald Reagan’s drug abuse task force, Dr David Bearman, has extensively studied the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and ADHD and has found potential value in medicinal cannabinoids through how they interact with the brain’s dopamine management systems to improve mental health.
“Cannabis appears to treat ADD and ADHD by increasing the availability of dopamine,” Dr Bearman says. “This then has the same effect but is a different mechanism of action than stimulants like Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Dexedrine amphetamine, which act by binding to the dopamine and interfering with the metabolic breakdown of dopamine.”
“The most accepted theory about ADHD rests on the fact that about 70 percent of the brain’s function is to regulate input to the other 30 percent,” Dr Bearman states. “Basically the brain is overwhelmed with too much information coming too fast. In ADHD, the brain is cluttered with and too aware of all the nuances of a person’s daily experience.” (3)
It is recommended that patients work with a medical professional who has experience in recommending medicinal cannabis or CBD oil so the delivery methods and dosage can be adjusted to the individual. In saying that, patients who are aware and take the time to educate themselves can be their own well-informed health consultants using journaling and taking notes using a subjective-intuitive approach.
Any self-administered use of cannabis products would best be started low and slow, microdosing and slowly increasing the dose to test for sensitivities then scaling back using the titrate method until symptoms of the condition begin to subside and the results stabilize.
When it comes to ADHD in young people, it’s considered more advantageous to use edibles or drops containing cannabis strains with a very elevated CBD:THC ratio such as 24:1. In children, glycerin tinctures, CBD oil infusions, pure CO2-extracted concentrates, or sublingual products are best (avoid alcohol tinctures). The oil can be given mixed or straight with foods like yoghurt. As for concentrates, these are more appropriate when higher doses of cannabinoids are needed, and can also be mixed into foods like nut butters, applesauce, or made into capsules.
Adults can consume any of the above, along with alcohol-based tinctures, edibles, and capsules.
Cannabis varieties high in the terpenes terpinolene and pinene, without excessive levels of myrcene, are suggested to be effective for ADHD. When hyperactivity is more of the challenge, higher levels of linalool and myrcene may be calming. (4)
ADHD scored in the possible-to-probable range of efficacy for treatment with medicinal marijuana based on seven currently available studies with CHI (cannabis health index).
Cannabis has only recently emerged as a viable option for assisting those with symptoms of ADHD. Several studies look at the benefits and drawbacks of THC for the condition in adults, only a few studies involving CBD have recently been completed. A study from 2012 showed that CBD significantly reduced hyperactivity and “deficits in social interaction.” (5)
In a study from 2014, those with attention deficit-related disorders were broken down into subtypes with those being characterized as having hyperactive-impulsive behavior were much more likely to “self medicate” using cannabis. The findings indirectly support research linking relevant cannabinoid receptors to regulatory control. (6)
Another study from 2018 stated “the patient found relief from his ADHD symptoms, the medicinal cannabinoids reduced hyperactivity as well as improved focus, impulse control, and better frustration tolerance. This is in line with clinical studies on medical cannabis for ADHD.” (7)
In one new study from 2020 involving 59 people, subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire with researchers observing that a “higher dose consumption of medicinal cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids and terpenes) is associated with a reduction in ADHD medication." (8)
A study from 2017 published in the European Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that medicinal cannabinoids can assist patients with ADHD in the reduction of symptoms with no cognitive impairments. Providing preliminary evidence supporting the self-medication theory of cannabis use in ADHD, with the need for further studies of the endocannabinoid system in ADHD. (9)
A study from 2020 has shown the use of synthetic cannabinoids (SC) to be associated with “stronger ADHD symptom severity” with researchers stating “SC use should be subject to scrutiny by clinicians treating ADHD patients.” Side effects of such use included neuropsychiatric, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal symptoms, all of which one would want to avoid if optimal mind-body health was the intended result. (10)
If you found this article of value, consider sharing it with a friend. You’ll find more posts like this over on our blog covering the latest research on hemp, cannabinoids, and the powerful endocannabinoid system as it relates to various conditions and ailments. As always, prior to undertaking any changes to your treatment plan or lifestyle, consult with a licenced medical professional.
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